Eric Ellis' profile of Wendi Deng Murdoch is finally out in today's issue of The Monthly. Unfortunately, the story is not available online, so I will have to go out and buy a copy ASAP [UPDATE BELOW]. Meanwhile, here's the blurb:
In “Wendi Deng Murdoch”, renowned journalist Eric Ellis profiles the wife of media mogul Rupert Murdoch. From her early life in austere communist China, her time as a student in Los Angeles and her subsequent swift rise in News Corporation’s Star TV, in Hong Kong, to her recent involvement in the News-owned community website MySpace, this is the story of a person both ambitious and disarming, intelligent and charming. Avoiding salacity in favour of far-ranging, detailed investigation, Ellis offers an even-handed summation of the life of a highly important yet scarcely known person, and of her role in News Corporation."Even-handed"? Who wants even-handed? This is MURDOCH we are dealing with - when did HE ever give anyone an "even-handed" profile?
Just to show how Fair And Balanced they are, The Monthly online also offers a couple of "even-handed" extracts. Here's the positive one:
If she is assuming a grander role for herself at News, can Wendi deliver China to her husband? [Former Star CEO] Gary Davey says that at the very least she’d be an improvement on her predecessors. Over the years, he explains, News has been inundated with fixers, influence-brokers and spruikers promising riches in China but not delivering. ‘We’d have two or three a day,’ he remembers, ‘members of the politburo who’d show up with their hands out. It was just revolting. It’s all very well having the connections and the guanxi [influence] and all of that nonsense, but most of the guys who are in that racket wouldn’t have a bloody clue about how to run a business.’ Wendi is different, Davey says, bringing to the role an understanding of the culture and language, and also ‘really intense business nous, one of the missing pieces of the China puzzle’.And here's the negative one (pretty mild, IMHO):
“‘There is no one in [News Corporation] with Rupert’s vision or breadth of interest,’ warns Andrew Neil, a former senior Murdoch employee … ‘Wendi has two young kids to look after, but everybody’s view is that she is biding her time. She keeps her hand in as to what is going on. He’s very close to her. Everybody expects to see her as a rising player. From everything I hear about her, underestimating her would be very foolish, particularly in a post-Rupert world. She’ll want to be there when the [company] carve-up happens, and she’s got two kids who are increasingly being cut in to the post-Rupert pie,’ says Neil.”Let's hope there's more meat in the hardcopy. Stay tuned...
UPDATE: Well, I got hold of the Monthly and quickly read the article. First impression is mild disappointment, as in: "What was all the fuss about"?
Remember, the Fairfax press commissioned this article at some considerable expense - the author, Eric Ellis, has clearly travelled far and wide to track down his sources and investigate Deng's past lives - but then they decided to spike it rather than incurr the wrath of Rupert Murdoch (who was a minority Fairfax shareholder at the time). Why they did so is even more perplexing now, given that there is really nothing explosive here. I can only assume that Murdoch is rabidly protective of his new bride, and determined to extinguish any media coverage of her. So did Fairfax cave to his pressure? Or did they do a deal: we'll spike the story if you sell your shares. Either that, or Fairfax sent Ellis on a fishing trip and threw the catch away when he came home without the whopper catch they were counting on.
There are some interesting nuggets, of course. But most of the article is information that is already publicly available, and has been published on this blog (after cut-and-pasting from one site or another). In fact, there are a few stories here that Ellis barely touched (or did not touch at all). Anyway, here are a few nuggets from the Monthly article that are not noted elsewhere on this blog:
1. Until the details were published in the Wall Street Journal, Murdoch apparently did not know much about Deng's past, including the affair and marriage with Jake Cherry, which secured her a US visa. One WSJ journo describes Murdoch as "ashen-faced" at their next meeting. As Ellis writes, Murdoch got a rude taste of his own tabloid journalism medicine. I can't help wondering if that has anything to do with his current bid for the Journal?
2. Deng is a minor celebrity in China, though there are very mixed feelings about her. One Chinese fan runs a couple of Wendi Deng websites - wendideng.com and dengwendi.com, both with identical data. The info is in Chinese only, but seems to be nothing more than money-making celebrity-watching.
3. Deng's former best friend complains that she hasn't heard from Wendi in ten years. But here childhood past doesn't seem too suspicious. Nothing about high-level Communist Party connections, or even the spy allegations once hinted at in Crikey.
All in all, I would say the article paints a fairly favourable portrait of Deng as an intelligent, ambitious girl with no sense of shame. Or, as somebody put it in the article, little sense of "self-awareness". She worked her way up the corporate ladder by dancing into the offices of hand-picked executives with a cutesy, innocent girl routine which she "perfected" with practice. But few of her ex-colleagues seem to harbour any ill feelings towards her. Maybe that's just how things work in the Murdoch media empire?
UPDATE 2: 24 hours later and this story appears to have been met with a stony silence in the media. Despite previous interest from Slate, the Telegraph and other outlets, nobody has yet run a story on Deng. Is that fear I smell?
Meanwhile, Wendi Deng's husband is cutting jobs at his four UK papers to help finance his exorbitant bid for the WSJ.
The cuts, which follow a number of previous redundancies, mirrored moves by all UK newspaper groups, News International Executive Chairman Les Hinton said in a statement to senior staff.Which reminds me that there is another excellent article in The Monthly, “War of Words”, by Eric Beecher:
"This is necessary because newspaper revenues are coming under pressure at a time when other costs are rising and we are also investing in digital media," Hinton said.
“It would be difficult to overstate the serious media’s anxiety about the future of quality journalism. This anxiety stems from an old dilemma – is journalism a public trust or a business? – overlaid on a new dilemma: that as the internet matures into a successful commercial medium, the funding model for quality commercial journalism is collapsing. This is no longer simply a debate about the role of press barons like Rupert Murdoch. It is now about whether the owners of quality commercial journalism – predominantly the owners of the world’s major newspapers – are prepared to accept lower profits and diminished share prices in order to continue funding costly but important journalism. There can only be one conclusion: in your dreams.”UPDATE 3: Ellis has a website at Eric Ellis dot com, which includes a PDF of his letter to ABC's MediaWatch. I've asked him to confirm that no juicy details were edited out of the version published in The Monthly.
UPDATE 4: Eric Ellis never replied to my email. You can find the Chinese version of his Deng article here - worth a look for the photos alone, which are not the same as those in the Monthly version.