On Day Two of the Rupert Murdoch-Wendi Deng divorce story, the why angle sparks juicy speculation.
Curiouser and curiouser. Day Two of the Rupert Murdorch-Wendi Deng divorce story turned juicier when ex-British prime minister and Deng pal Tony Blair got dragged into it.
Soon after news broke Thursday that billionaire media mogul Murdoch, 82, had filed for divorce from his third wife after 14 years of marriage, journalists in the U.S. and the U.K. with close contacts to Murdoch and his media empire, News Corp., began twittering about a scandalous possible reason for split.
Said scandal turned out to be the claim that Deng, 44, had an affair with Blair, 60, who happens to be godfather of the couple's two young daughters, Grace, 11, and Chloe, 9.
Blair, the former New Labor PM who was embraced politically by the conservative Tory/Republican Murdoch when he was in power, denied the claim through a spokesman today. But the way the denial was worded led to more speculation.
And it's only Day Two! These opening stages suggest this divorce will not be handled in the customary manner of divorces among the high-and-mighty - discreet, amicable and behind closed doors - predicts Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff today.
"This is not amicable, it's totally public, it's a throw-down-the-gauntlet, we-are-going-to-war kind of thing," says Wolff, a columnist for USA TODAY, The Guardian and Vanity Fair.
In other words, it's signature Murdoch, he says. "If he feels that someone is going to war with him, he's going to strike first."
Meanwhile, News Corp, which is preparing to split into two companies at the end of the month, announced that a key executive, CFO David DeVoe, would retire after 25 years with the company. Wolff described this news as "nearly as seismic" as the divorce.
"What is happening over there?" Wolff tweeted today. "Beginning to sound like the climax of a Godfather movie, everybody killed, at News Corp."
Also meanwhile, a posse of matrimonial lawyers rushed into TV studios to chatter all day about the pending divorce: What impact from the pre-nuptial agreement? (Yes, there is one.) Is divorcing in New York better for Murdoch than in his native Australia or in the U.K.? (Yup.) Was Murdoch's divorce from his second wife the most costly in human history? (Probably not.) Was it more than $1 billion or "only" $100 million? (People are still arguing over that.)
Yes, the media on three continents just love a juicy divorce among billionaires. Even the News Corp-owned Wall Street Journal is covering it. But not Murdoch's rowdy New York Post, which posted just a small story early today with none of its characteristic schadenfreude at the marital woes of celebrities.
If the Murdoch divorce turns protracted and nasty, it will be more difficult to cover, Wolff predicted, because so many key media outlets that news consumers rely on are owned by Murdoch.
Still, imagine the dismay of a former British premier having to deny involvement in this mess. At first, the speculation was coy. BBC economics editor Robert Peston tweeted Thursday that he was told that "undisclosed reasons for Murdoch divorcing Deng are jaw-dropping - & hate myself for wanting to know what they are."
Later, Wolff, the author of the Murdoch biography, The Man Who Owns The News: Inside The Secret World Of Rupert Murdoch, tweeted that "Rumor about the big B is everywhere except in print."
Today,The Hollywood Reporterasked and got an aswer from Blair's London office. "If you are asking if they are having an affair, the answer is no," said the anonymous spokesman. That set off more tweeting about why the spokesman used the present tense instead of the past tense.
It is true that Deng and Blair are close friends, Wolff says, but that doesn't necessarily mean an affair. In fact, Deng was so upfront about their friendship that she arranged for Wolff to interview Blair for his Murdoch book.
"She is completely upfront, on the surface, having a great time with whatever she's doing, enthralled by her life," Wolff says. "She's irresistible, and I don't mean that sexually. If she took an interest in you, you would respond."
So why is Murdoch divorcing her (especially after her valiant defense of him from a pie-thrower while he was testifying in Parliament in 2011)? Stay tuned.