If this were a story in the New York Post, the headline would blare: “SPLITSVILLE: Tab Tycoon Untying Knot With Young Lady Love.”
But since the New York Post is part of News Corp., and since News Corp is owned by Rupert Murdoch, and since the split in question is Murdoch’s own to Wendi Deng, his 44-year-old wife of 14 years, the coverage tomorrow should be, ahem, a bit more muted.
Still, the news that thrice-married Murdoch, 82, and the twice-married Deng were splitting up ricocheted around society and media circles in London and New York on Thursday after it was first reported on the website Deadline.com.
The divorce comes at a particularly delicate time for Murdoch, as the other institution that sustains him, News Corp., is preparing for a split of its own, with the publishing properties being spun off from the rest of the company’s assets.
Media analysts said that it was unlikely that the divorce would much affect the split. When Murdoch divorced his second wife, Anna, in 1999, he had to pay her a $1.7 billion settlement, believed to be the largest divorce settlement in history. They had been married for 31 years, however, and have three children, all of whom have been involved at one point or another in running the Murdoch empire.
Deng Murdoch was never as involved in the company as Anna, who reportedly had an office on News Corp.’s corporate floor and a position on the board until 1998. Deng, by contrast, has never been thought to have much interest in the company.
Deng will be widely remembered for her fierce defense of her husband at one of his lowest moments. In 2011, Murdoch was being grilled before Parliament about accusations that employees of some of his British newspapers had hacked into phones, when a protester pushed a pie into his face. Deng quickly decked the assailant, achieving her own bit of YouTube immortality.
Since then, Deng has been increasingly on the New York social circuit without him, including at Henry Kissinger’s 90th birthday party at the St. Regis and at a New York art world dinner hosted by Mayor Bloomberg and Russian art star Dasha Zhukova. Deng’s marriage to the media tycoon allegedly began to sour soon after the phone-hacking scandal brought a new level of scrutiny to the Murdoch empire, bringing a chill to his tabloids’ already unsavory reputation. Some in their social circle have even said her popularity has of late surpassed Murdoch’s.
It wasn't always so. Six years ago, Deng seemed outwardly affectionate and protective of her husband, leading him around an A-list Hollywood gathering during Oscar weekend with the Chinese-accented words, “Come this way, Old Man!”
In January 2010, after Murdoch's son-in-law, British public relations executive Matthew Freud, gave a scathing quote to the New York Times for a profile of Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes--saying he and other members of the Murdoch clan were “ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’ horrendous and sustained disregard of …journalistic standards”--The Daily Beast reported that Deng was among those who encouraged Freud’s attack.
More recently, in April 2012, the couple showed up at a celebrity-studded party for Kathy Freston’s diet book, “The Lean,” at the rented Chelsea loft of Arianna Huffington. Deng, who was Huffington’s co-host, declared that she and Rupert had been following Freston’s vegan-heavy regimen and “it gave us so much more energy," a suggestive line that drew giggles from the party guests.
—with Daniel Gross and Lloyd Grove