20 Jul 2011

Wendi Deng: just who is the smack-down sister?

Thrust into the spotlight for defending Rupert Murdoch from a shaving foam attack during the select committee hearing, is Wendi Deng more than just a loyal wife to the powerful media mogul?

Wendi Deng: just who is the smack down sister?

With a hard swipe in the face of a protester wielding a plate of shaving foam, Wendi Deng became an unlikely hero of the Murdochs’ grilling in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

The 42-year-old launched into a furious attack during the select committee hearing as she tried to defend her octogenarian husband against an intruder who disrupted the proceedings.

Captured on camera and broadcast to millions around the world, Wendi Deng leapt from her seat and brought her open palm down hard on the protester’s head before picking up the paper plate and trying to push it back into the man’s face.

As video of the attack circulated worldwide, chatter spread across the internet hailing Deng’s actions.

China’s microbloggers made the incident one of the most popular topics on the country’s Twitter-like service Weibo, even though the hacking scandal had previously attracted relatively little media coverage.

As she suddenly became a Twitter sensation, her actions generated the new online nickname of “Smack down sister”.

Deng did not, however, take to her own Weibo account to talk about what she did. With 124,131 followers, her profile is full of pictures of her with celebrities, such as Australian actors Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, and references to her “hubby”.

“That’s our Wendi,” said Vanity Fair writer Michael Wolff, author of a Murdoch biography.

“She is great. Incredibly full of energy, incredibly intelligent, living the life and just squeezing everything out of it,” he said. “She is incredibly ambitious.”

‘Humble’ beginnings

Wendi Deng, the third woman to hold the title Mrs Murdoch, came from middle-class China in 1968, where she was the daughter of a factory director in Guangzhou.

Wendi Deng: just who is the smack down sister?

(Above: Wendi Deng’s slap frame by frame.)

Born “Wenge”, meaning cultural revolution, she later changed her name to Wen Di from which she later chose her Western name of the same sound.

Deng arrived in America in 1988 after working as an interpreter for a Los Angeles couple – Jake and Joyce Cherry – who were working in China. When they returned to the United States, they sponsored her to live with them and to study.

The couple divorced two years later and Deng married Jake Cherry, albeit briefly. They divorced after less than three years and Deng remained in the US having secured a green card.

Shortly after receiving an MBA from Yale University, Deng landed a job as an intern at News Corp’s Star TV in Hong Kong in 1996.

In 1998 she met company boss Rupert Murdoch when she was a junior executive who acted as his interpreter during a business trip to China.

A year later, Rupert Murdoch divorced his second wife of 31 years, Anna. Wendi and Rupert married in 1999.

News Corp heirs

Adding to Rupert Murdoch’s growing family, the couple have two daughters; Grace who was born in 2001, and Chloe in 2005.

Murdoch has four other grown children, Prudence from his first marriage and Lachlan, James and Elisabeth from his second.

“When I saw Wendi Murdoch last week in NYC, she told me she had to go to London to take ‘care of her man’…now I see what she meant” Rap mogul Russell Simmons tweets

Lachlan has held key jobs at News Corp but now only sits on the company’s board. The company recently bought Elisabeth’s television production company Shine, though the deal is being contested by some shareholders, and she is expected to join News Corp’s board.

James is a top News Corp executive. Until the scandal undermined his position, he was considered most likely to succeed his father as News Corp CEO.

Wolff says Deng wields some influence at News Corp, but the executives “have always tried to keep her out of the way and the kids have tried to keep her at bay.”

A few years ago, several news reports said that she had battled Murdoch’s adult children to secure a voting position for her children in the family trust, which holds the Murdoch stake in News Corp, worth billions of dollars.

“She reminds me in a certain way of Rupert himself. She is out to do what she wants to do,” Wolff said, adding, “That really makes you someone to be reckoned with and someone who ultimately seems quite fearless.”

Reports have suggested that Deng is pivotal in News Corp conquering the Chinese media market, although so far analysts have noted that it has been hampered by Beijing’s efforts to maintain control over state broadcasting.

Deng is currently credited as producer of the just-released movie Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a story set in 19th century China about the tough cultural norms imposed on women.