Her personal politics are to the left of his, but that seems more because she’s constantly reminded by society friends how much they hate Fox News. She is said to have pressured Rupert to tone down his shrillness and, if that is so, it hasn’t much worked. But Wendi is no political animal like her husband. She has evinced no particular interest in Chinese affairs, no outrage at Tiananmen or Tibet. When Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, there was no swelling of the patriotic mainland heart. She was partying at a Hong Kong club favored by well-heeled expatriates.
A Star colleague described her as “a delightful charmer”, and very popular with the male expatriate staff. “She loved that she worked for a big, multinational, non-Chinese company in China,” recalls one colleague. “She was ambitious, sure, but not in the way that ‘I’m going to write a killer business plan myself and make it work and be recognized for making it work’; she was ambitious in the way that ‘I’m going to meet this person and schmooze this person.’ She took advantage of people’s naivetéand niceness,” the executive says. “And she totally got credit for it. She presents this stuff to the bosses, and her charming self, and then she starts jetting off. If Rupert fell in love with her because of her Excel-spreadsheet business plans, then he should’ve married me.”
What was clear as I journeyed through Wendi’s life in 2007—her humble Xuzhou childhood, college life in the U.S. and her first tumultuous marriage and then Star where she first met Rupert—is that if he married her because she could deliver China’s boundless riches, he married the wrong woman. Wendi is no “princeling” as the influential children of China’s Communist Party elite are known, and how gormless Australian executives at Star imagined her. Teacher Xie knew the Dengs well, and said that Wendi’s father was just a medium-level party official at best in the state ironworks in Xuzhou. “One could not be a big guy coming from a machinery works at that time.” Indeed, since Rupert married Wendi, News Corp has gone backwards in China, making blunders and only glacial progress in trying to expand there. She bears a card that simply says “Wendi Deng Murdoch, News Corporation,” hoping that the surname carries the same gravitas with party officials that it implies in the West.
But it doesn’t. Indeed, as his translator, News executives say she – and he – are openly disparaged in meetings in Beijing, in salty remarks that she doesn’t translate for her husband. More recently, however, she seems to have embraced more of a consigliere role, coming as the couple moved uptown to New York’s more stately upper east side.
So what now, post Johnny Marbles? As News crumbles under a legal welter to threaten the dynasty, streetsmarts like hers seem sorely needed. And Wendi is one of the few in the Murdoch circle untainted by the phone-hacking scandal or corporate governance questions. She has been increasingly cut into the Murdoch pie and, from what I know of her, if the seemingly inevitable carve-up of a company unloved by many of its investors occurs, she’ll perhaps face the choice of becoming a Dewi Sukarno-like New York social figure, or demanding – and getting – a place at the dynastic table for her and her two children. I’d bet on the latter.