Wendi Deng‘s treatment of her husband, media Midas Rupert Murdoch, which can best be characterized as “spousal abuse”, led to her being dumped by him in 2013.
Now Wendi’s romantic machinations with Tony Blair during her marriage to Murdoch have had further repercussions–the collapse of the 13-year marriage between Rupert’s daughter Elisabeth and Matthew Freud, London’s premier publicist. Elisabeth, a talented media executive, and Matthew were the golden couple in the British hothouse, they were the Chipping Norton set’s answer to Angelina and Brad. No more. Pfft, it’s over.
The split is the talk of Fleet Street, but you haven’t read about it here in New York, for reasons we’ll get to later.
How did this all begin? In 1997 Wendi Deng entered the life of Rupert Murdoch. He was 68 and she was 29 when his Star TV company and the Communist Party arranged for her to be his “guide” during a tour of China. Not long thereafter, he divorced his wife Anna. Seventeen days after that, he married Wendi. Since then, his life has been a soap opera.
If you believe Mark Seal‘s thoroughly researched article in the March 2014 issue of Vanity Fair, and we do, once Wendi got the upper hand in the marriage, she was hell on wheels. She screamed at the help. She threw phones at them. She insulted Rupert in public. She infantilized him in front of their friends. She left him at home with the kids while she partied at decadent nightclub The Box until 6 a.m. She disappeared for weekends on the yacht with her “girlfriends”.
But it was Wendi’s well documented romantic assignations with Tony Blair and Google’s Eric Schmidt that brought down the tent. According to VF, she hooked up with Tony Blair (whom her husband had practically invented) at their ranch in Carmel, at The Carlyle, on the yacht and on the sailboat, and at Murdoch’s home in St. James Place in London. She frolicked with Schmidt at The Beverly Hills Hotel.
Wendi played Rupert for a fool. People told him of her infidelities but he didn’t want to believe it and when he would ask her about it, she would, according to the servants, scream at him all night at the top of her lungs. And once she shoved him against the piano. He fell, couldn’t get up, and had to go to the hospital.
Finally he had had enough. It may have been when someone showed him a note she had written to herself expressing her passion for the former Prime Minister of Great Britain.
Wendi wrote, “Oh, shit, oh, shit. Whatever why I’m so so missing Tony. Because he is so charming and his clothes are so good. He has such good body and he has really really good legs Butt…And he is slim tall and good skin. Pierce blue eyes which I love.” [Do you like it? Shall I continue?]
Murdoch obtained the divorce, but it cost him plenty. And he had to break commitments he had made to wife Anna in return for her generosity when they divorced.
Let’s get back to Elisabeth and Matthew. According to The Telegraph (10/5), Freud, 50, sided with his longtime friend and colleague, the ex-Prime Minister, after Murdoch divorced Deng for, among other indiscretions, her hanky-panky with Tony Baloney. (By the by, Blair is currently bringing in tens of millions advising Third World despots.)
When things hit the fan, Cherie Blair looked the other way. Rupert did not. His support had been crucial to Blair’s takeover with the Labour party, and Rupert had whisked Wendi from a life of obscurity in Beijing to the pinnacle of international society. Their betrayal and their mendacity hurt him a lot.
Another wound, according to Michael Wolff in The Hollywood Reporter (issue dated 10/17), was that after Murdoch and his son James had gotten in deep trouble two years ago in the tabloid hacking scandal, Freud hatched a plan “to reposition Elisabeth as the anti-Murdoch, ready to take over the company [Murdoch’s international conglomerate] from her discredited family.” In furtherance of this attempted coup, the couple gave a long interview to The New Yorker, “enraging Rupert.”
Relations between Freud and Murdoch deteriorated so badly, writes The Telegraph, that last November “tensions saw Mr. Murdoch barred from Mr. Freud’s 50th birthday party, where Mr. Blair and his wife were guests. Elisabeth reportedly became caught in the crossfire of the dispute.”
Being excluded was humiliating for Rupert, as Freud is a big cheese in London. Wolff writes that Freud, a great-grandson of Sigmund, is “the most famous p.r. man, fixer and influence peddler in Britain, a man whose ambition and drive seem uniquely compatible with Rupert’s. Perhaps that is the reason Freud might be the person Murdoch dislikes most on Earth.”
Wolff concludes,”Freud’s miscalculation was in his estimation of the power of ambition over blood and, too, his father-in-law’s wiles.” Now the marriage is kaput. Presumably they will share custody of the two children.
You may wonder why you didn’t read about the Murdoch-Freud divorce in the New York papers. Think about it: Rupert owns the Post and the Wall Street Journal–they don’t go near the boss’s personal life.
Then there is The Times, which likes to claim it is above covering personality-driven gossip (until the day a story furthers their agenda–then they write it.) And don’t forget Murdoch’s ongoing expressions of interest in purchasing the Old Gray Lady, which would be the jewel in the crown. Sure, he may never get it, but everyone said he’d never get The Wall Street Journal, and he did. Better not to poke around in the tiger’s cage, just in case.
And the Daily News? Until a few years ago, they took potshots at Rupert’s private life. In turn, The Post endlessly scrutinized the lady friends of News owner Mort Zuckerman, and once even wrote about his daughter’s medical problem. Then both sides stopped. Radio silence. Some journalists believe that Murdoch and Zuckerman concluded a mutual non-aggression pact, possibly brokered by p.r. mandarin Howard Rubenstein. These days neither newspaper invades the privacy of the other’s owner.
Finally, Murdoch has a close relationship with Jared Kushner, owner of the New York Observer. You won’t find any dish on Rupert there–or on Wendi. Jared and his wife Ivanka journeyed to the River Jordan in 2010 for the baptism of Rupert and Wendi’s two daughters. Another guest at the riverbank, in fact the godfather of little Grace, was–are you sitting down–Tony Blair. Don’t you love it?
So, to an extent, there’s a blackout in New York City on Rupert Murdoch news. Be grateful for the Internet. And for Orbmagazine.
Divorces come and go, but life goes on. Wendi wound up with the magnificent triplex penthouse at 834 Fifth Avenue that Rupert purchased from the estate of Laurance Rockefeller for 52 million dollars. (It might be worth double that now. Woody Johnson just got 80 million for his flat on a lower floor.)
834 Fifth is stately and staid, a building full of gilded names with gilded portfolios. “Wendi would never ever have gotten approved by the board at a coop like 834,” a person knowledgable about things told me. “In fact, even Rupert needed the guidance of a building resident who is a Wall Street legend to get past the board”.
But Wendi is ensconced in the penthouse now, and though she has few friends in the building (“Rides in the elevator can be awkward”, they say), she ain’t goin’ anywhere. Except to fancy parties. Last week she was among the 120 guests at the tippy-toppy private preview of the new Japanese restaurant Larry Gagosian has installed downstairs from his gallery on Madison and 76th.
Rupert is positioning himself for a fascinating Act III. He paid 42 million for the triplex penthouse at One Madison, the sliver tower on 22d street that overlooks Madison Park. Then, just because he could, Murdoch paid 15 million more for the 57th floor, right below the triplex penthouse. And he’s having it all done up to beat the band. Bully for him.
Maybe Murdoch will emulate a predecessor media magnate whose penthouse parties for Tout New York became the stuff of legend. His name was Conde Nast. We hope that happens.
When you’re 83 years old, and still on top of the mountain, you can’t look back, and you can’t slow down.
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The Governor Isn’t Taking Questions
The Daily News has an editorial today (10/13) attacking Rob Astorino, the GOP candidate for governor. The editorial doesn’t make much sense, and isn’t very convincing, but that’s not the point.
News owner Mortimer Zuckerman made up his mind to back Andrew Cuomo in August when the governor, who hates to travel and hadn’t left the country since taking office almost four years ago, suddenly flew to Israel to wholeheartedly endorse its military campaign in Gaza and he took Zuckerman along to stand by him as he did it. Cuomo also followed Zuckerman’s advice to refuse to meet with Palestinians. After that, The News was in the bag.
In today’s Post (10/13), Fred Dicker reports that Cuomo is slipping in the polls. He’s down to 51 percent of the total vote in a Quinnipiac survey (among men, he leads by only 5 percent), despite outspending Astorino 20 to 1. The Green Party candidate is getting 10 percent from anti-Cuomo liberal Democrats.
Dicker also writes that Astorino’s campaign is sending out a fund-raising letter today in which Mitt Romney rips Cuomo as “a typical corrupt New York politician” for squashing the Moreland Commission, shielding Shelly Silver and spending taxpayer dollars on TV commercials burnishing his image.
Cuomo won’t be denied reelection–he’ll limp to victory–but his inept campaign (his refusal to really debate Astorino is being denounced by everyone in the media, except Mort) will probably eliminate the possibility he can run for president in two years.
And 2016 is the last chance for the virally ambitious Cuomo. After two terms, a New York governor is less popular than a skunk at a Sunday picnic.
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A Dish Best Served Cold
Last year, when wunderkind pollster Nate Silver suddenly abandoned The Times for ESPN and ABC News, the paper shrugged like it was no big deal. But the geekster’s getaway must have cut deep, for now the broadsheet is getting even.
In Saturday’s NYT (10/11), in a “Political Memo” ostensibly about a strong Independent challenger to a Kansas GOP senator, John Harwood jabbed Silver twice. Make that SLASHED him twice. While purporting to discuss the accuracy of pollsters, the only one he criticizes by name is the defector from The Times:
“The Democratic pollster Mark S. Mellman showed narrow but consistent leads for the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, in 2010, and for Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota in 2012. Both won, even though prominent election forecaster Nate Silver, then with The New York Times, had called them probable losers”.
Ouch. Then Harwood added this:
“Anything can happen,’ said Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado. He won in 2010 after public polls showed him behind and Mr. Silver pegged his chances at 34.9 percent, though his own pollster had shown him ahead.”
Silver, who also writes books and promotes them on The Colbert Report, has enjoyed a reputation for near-infallibility. The Times is helping cut him down to size. That’s their job, and they enjoy their work.