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.” (more…)