You can no more injure Rupert Murdoch by calling him a purveyor of sensationalism and trash than you can offend gangrenous flesh by calling it stinky. The man doesn't have calluses. He is a callus.
That's not to say Murdoch is completely impervious to what is said and written about him. His weak spot is his family, as the Wall Street Journal learned in 2000 when it published a 3,500-word Page One story (subscription required) about his wife titled "Meet Wendi Deng: The Boss's Wife Has Influence at News Corp.—Murdoch Spouse, 31, Has Come A Long Way Since Leaving China a Dozen Years Ago—A Yale Connection in Beijing."
The piece angered Murdoch, whose News Corp. is currently bidding for the company that owns the Journal. News Corp. executive Gary Ginsberg told the New York Times last week that the Deng article "wasn't a legitimate news story, in that Wendi had no role in the company at that time. What they were doing was looking for a pretext to write a public story about a private individual."
The mogul is obviously still sensitive about his latest bride. Rupert-watchers in Australia and the United Kingdom speculate that Murdoch may have played a role in the recent spiking of a 10,000-word-plus Deng profile. (Crikey.com broke the story.) Written by Fortune magazine contributor Eric Ellis, the profile was commissioned by Good Weekend, the Saturday magazine Fairfax Media inserts inside its Melbourne and Sydney dailies. At the time the spike was delivered, Murdoch's News Corp. owned 7.5 percent of Fairfax, which raises the question: Is Rupert the sort of guy who would kill a critical story about his wife? If so, is he the sort of guy we want to own the Wall Street Journal?
The Financial Times reported April 24 that "after the [Deng] story landed and was much praised by editors for the quality of its research, a sudden decision was made last week not to run it." Journalists at The Age, the Fairfax paper in Melbourne, demanded to know whether the piece had been pulled on editorial grounds or as a result of boardroom machinations, i.e., Murdoch intervention. Whatever happened, Murdoch couldn't have been very happy. Just days later, News Corp. sold its Fairfax stake.
So, who is Wendi Deng, and why are they writing all those horrible things about her? Contrary to News Corp. assertions, Deng wielded real power inside News Corp. at the time the Journal story ran. The third paragraph of the piece states:
Though she doesn't have a formal position with her husband's media empire, she has quickly asserted influence over News Corp.'s operations and investments in Asia, the most important growth market for the company.
Working with her stepson, James Murdoch, 27, Ms. Deng has initiated or advocated Chinese Internet investments totaling between $35 million and $45 million, according to a top News Corp. executive. With her advice, News Corp. has also formed partnerships with cable companies in the region looking to upgrade their systems for high-speed video and Internet access.
Today, Deng is integral to the launching of News Corp.'s MySpace in China. MySpace China is taking on a partner, reports the April 27 Wall Street Journal, and News Corp. will have at least three seats on its board, "one of which will be occupied by Mr. Murdoch's Chinese-born wife, Wendi, who has spearheaded MySpace's push into China."
Leaked excerpts of the Ellis piece have appeared on the Web site of Media Watch, a program about the press run on Australia's ABC-TV. The site summarizes the piece as a "portrait of a young woman with stars in her eyes, spying opportunities, with not a lot of talent to back up her quest."
A senior News Corp. flack told Media Watch that "Rupert has certainly not applied any pressure to anyone on this profile…To my mind, Rupert is no more sensitive of gossipy coverage of his wife than any other husband." [Ellipses in the original.] And Good Weekend Editor Judith Whelan insists in an staff e-mail that her decision was "based on editorial judgments."