EXCLUSIVE 9 AM, 4TH UPDATE 11 AM WRITETHRU (new details): News Corp Chairman/CEO Rupert Murdoch filed for divorce from wife Wendi Deng Murdoch this morning in New York State Supreme Court, Deadline learned at 9 AM. The divorce will not impact Rupert Murdoch’s mega-media holdings, according to insiders, and was deliberately announced for maximum transparency before News Corp spins off its publishing assets into a separately traded company by June 28th. (Murdoch will control both of these entities.) Wendi is perhaps most vividly and fondly remembered by the general public in July 2011 for standing up for her husband and clocking Jonathan May-Bowles after he threw a pie at Murdoch during his highly publicized British parliamentary testimony in connection with the News International phone-hacking scandal. (“Mr Murdoch, your wife has a very good left hook,” the chairman of the House Of Commons panel said admiringly. Wendi quickly earned the nickname of ‘Tiger Wife’ on Twitter.) Today’s divorce news comes despite numerous denials by PR man Steven Rubenstein and News Corp PR woman Julie Henderson to me as recently as April and May. (“We get this phone call once every 3-6 months,” Rubenstein and Henderson said at the time, pointing to the fact that Wendi and Rupert had recently hosted a dinner at their home for Oscar-winning Twentieth Century Fox director Ang Lee and were going away together on Spring Break.) But legal sources insisted to Deadline that the Murdochs’ divorce was being planned at the same time that a change in Wendi’s behavior towards Rupert was observed during the Academy Awards in February and after. “She was snippy with him during Oscar weekend, and she’s really impatient with him these days,” a source told Deadline then. I received a call from an insider telling me, “Now I’m hearing it might be true. Call me,” On the heels of that, for the first time, not even Murdoch’s reps were denying yet another rift between Rupert and Wendi, saying to me there had been marriage trouble but stressing “it feels like its past whatever that was.” A source who had dinner with them shortly after in NYC told me they were “fine. They’re two people who move a lot in different directions. I don’t know if it’s the marriage I’d want.” But another insider acknowledged to me, “I can’t say it might not be true that they’ll divorce. They have ups and downs. Right now it feels to me, having spent time with them, that they’re in a good place.” There is no question that despite divorce clouds Murdoch’s #1 priority was the News Corp split, not his from Wendi’s, and “to get it done and get it done right. So he’s had a lot on his plate. What was once one is now two,” an insider explained to me at the time. “The company is so big, so diverse, so complex, and now he has to recalibrate and reaggregate these businesses while the Street determines their true value.” Today I’m told by insiders that, at that time, there were still no divorce proceedings underway so the denials were issued in good faith. “The divorce happened very quickly,” an insider told me today without details.
Media moguls routinely divorce, and Deadline doesn’t cover Hollywood’s personal lives, but this split is notable only because of its possible impact on the News Corp split or the Murdoch family succession vis a vis its corporate holdings given the patriarch’s age of 82. “I don’t see anything to indicate that shareholders have a lot at stake if Rupert and Wendi split,” one prominent media analyst tells me. “News Corp paid her $92,000 in 2010 to provide some ‘strategic advice’ regarding MySpace in China. But that’s not even pocket change, and ended three years ago, She’s not on the board, and not an executive. And since she and her kids don’t have voting rights in the family trust, she doesn’t have leverage to influence succession. I suppose that investors might become nervous if she decided to spill some News Corp secrets, or distracted Rupert so much that he’d spend less time taking care of business. But that’s thin gruel.” As for News Corp’s obligations to keep Wall Street and shareholders up to date on this kind of personal matter, “They have to report ‘material’ information on a timely basis. A lot of wiggle room there.” The analyst added: “So, yes, they make a judgment call — and hope they can justify it if the SEC raises a question – which it usually doesn’t. Sarbanes-Oxley sought to promote full and truthful disclosure of corporate financial information, and to minimize opportunities for insider trading. It requires companies to release certain kinds of data and information, with top execs confirming that they’ve reviewed the material and attest to its completeness and accuracy. But the effort to level the playing field has made many execs — and especially their press handlers — fearful that they’d violate the law if they share information casually or off the record with analysts and reporters, a once-common practice.”
The couple met in 1997, at a News Corp party in Hong Kong where she worked at Murdoch-owned Star Television. They married in 1999, less than a month after his divorce from ex-wife Anna Maria Torv Murdoch was finalized. Rupert and Wendi were married on his yacht in New York Harbor in June 1999 after Murdoch’s ex-wife, received $1.7 billion — $110 million in cash — in what was called the “most expensive” divorce settlement in history. Although at first they broke up amicably after 30 years together, Anna (who has since remarried) was determined to give Murdoch’s older children the right to approve any change in the family trust that controls News Corp, ensuring that they could not be pushed aside for any new children. As part of the divorce from Anna, Rupert agreed that his existing children would inherit control of News Corp via the family trust. Wendi wanted that changed after giving birth to their two daughters, Grace and Chloe. But Rupert punted, then actually startled Wendi by disclosing in a 2006 Charlie Rose TV interview that Deng’s girls would not have voting rights in his family trust. He said they’d have an equal economic stake, but the decision-making would be left to Prudence, Elisabeth, Lachlan and James. “The fight that happened between Rupert and Wendi, after the program aired, is News Corp legend,” Michael Wolff wrote in his book The Man Who Owns The News: Inside The Secret World Of Rupert Murdoch.
Since then, news reports noted that Wendi emerged with her own independent career and immersed herself in a social circle that includes David Geffen, Larry Ellison, Tony Blair, Nicole Kidman and Bono “one that is often free of her husband’s presence,” to quote The New York Times. She is co-founder and co-CEO of the film production company Big Feet Productions. With the wife of former MGM exec Harry Sloan, Wendi co-produced the 2011 film Snow Flower And The Secret Fan, which was released by News Corp’s Fox Searchlight. (It generated $11.3M in global ticket sales, including $1.3M from domestic theaters.)
The marriage is Rupert’s third, and Wendi’s second. The Wall Street Journal disclosed in a controversial front page article in 2000, before Murdoch bought it, that she met her first husband in 1988 when she moved to Los Angeles to learn English. She lived with Jake and Joyce Cherry, and broke up their marriage by having an affair with Jake. She married him in 1990, but they divorced after two years and seven months. “That was seven months longer than what was required for Deng to obtain a green card, allowing her permanently to live and work in the U.S. as a resident alien,” the paper noted. “Cherry says he and Deng actually lived together for ‘four to five months, at the most.’”
According to news reports, Deng was born in Shandong, China, in 1968 to engineer parents. She was named Wen Ge, which is shorthand for “Cultural Revolution”. Once in the United States, she studied at Cal State before receiving an MBA from Yale University.