Cable viewers may know her as the flash of pink who smacked down Rupert Murdoch's shaving cream pie-wielding attacker at today's U.K. Parliament hearing on the News Corp. phone hacking scandal. In reality, Wendi Deng is a formidable, if at times shadowy, member of her husband's media empire in her own right.
Murdoch, along with his son James and his protegee Rebekah Brooks, went before Parliament today to answer questions about the scandal that continues to bring down News Corp. executives. When Rupert Murdoch was wrapping up his testimony, a protester lurched toward him, intending to throw a plate of shaving cream into his face. But while the plate was still aloft, Deng jumped to her feet, slapped the attacker, and then picked up the pie plate to try to hit the protester--who operates a Twitter account under the name Jonnie Marbles--with his own weapon, according to the Telegraph's James Kirkup. At the tail end of the Murdochs' testimony, one committee member said, "Mr. Murdoch, your wife has a very good left hook.
You can watch video of the foiled pie-attack below:
Today's episode marks just one occasion in which Deng could be described as hard-charging. Born Deng Wen Di in China in 1968, she moved to the United States on a student visa in 1988 to live with a California couple. The couple divorced two years later, and Deng briefly married the ex-husband, Jake Cherry.
Deng then headed to the East Coast and received her MBA from Yale University in 1996. That same year, she moved to Hong Kong to work for a News Corp. subsidiary. She met Rupert Murdoch at a company party in 1997, and married him in 1999. The couple has two daughters.
It's been a challenge, however, for would-be biographers to get much beyond these bare facts. A 2007 Sydney Morning Herald profile of Deng, written by Fortune contributor Eric Ellis, was abruptly spiked amid rumors that Murdoch, who had purchased a 7.5 percent stake in the parent company of the Australian paper, objected to the piece. (Ellis has posted the piece on his website--which reports among other things that Deng was an accomplished volleyball player. Perhaps this is the source of her jumping prowess?) Murdoch was reported to be similarly peeved at a 2000 Wall Street Journal profile of his wife by John Lippman, Leslie Chang and Robert Frank that delved into her romantic history.
Lippman, Chang and Frank depicted Deng as a key power player in the News Corp. empire. "Though she doesn't have a formal position with her husband's media empire, she has quickly asserted her influence over [News Corp.'s] operations and investments in Asia, its most important growth market," the authors wrote.
Deng was not content with the simple role of housewife--"Ms. Deng is no homebody," Lippman, Chang and Frank observed. She worked with James to expand News Corp.'s internet investments in China and encouraged partnerships with regional cable companies. Deng is "a de facto diplomat on behalf of NewsCorp in China," the Journal reporters noted.
And what of her friends? Well, according to the testimony collected in a July Harpers Bazaar piece discussing Deng's new project, a film adaptation of Lisa See's 2005 novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Deng is a "wicked-smart girl's girl" (Rita Wilson) and "so quick and so politically incorrect" (Hugh Jackman). Future pie throwers: you've been warned!