Vanity Fair runs another long excerpt from Michael Wolff's upcoming biography of the media mogul, this time focusing on family matters - specifically, his involvement with a 19-year-old Chinese woman who eventually became Mrs. Murdoch. Wolff reprises the not-so-savory details of Wendi Murdoch's rise to power that the WSJ reported in 2000 - then he proceeds to tear down lots of the salacious stuff that the newspaper laid out. The basic question: Was Wendi a calculating tart going after the richest, most powerful men in the room or merely a curious young woman in search of her place in the world? The soap opera has its roots in L.A., where Rupert was in the middle of a crumbling marriage, and Wendi was involved with a married man named Jake Cherry who she had met in China. After that, the versions differ.
The WSJ version (as summarized by Wolff):
Wendi arrives in Los Angeles in February 1988. Underlining her duplicity and meretriciousness, the Journal points out that she shares “a bedroom and a bunk bed” with the Cherrys’ five-year-old daughter. Anyway, evidence and emotion will out and Joyce, according to the Journal, gets wise to the situation, forcing Wendi, now a student at California State University at Northridge, out of the house. Jake soon follows her and the two marry in February 1990. But in no time at all, she moves on. “She told me I was a father concept to her, but it would never be anything else,” the Journal has Jake saying, adding, “I loved that girl.” She does, however, stay married to Jake for two years and seven months—long enough, the Journal archly notes, to get a green card.
Her next alliance, begun while she’s still involved with Jake, is with a more age-appropriate suitor named David Wolf, a businessman with an interest in China who speaks a bit of Mandarin. She’s involved with Wolf for at least the next five or six years. The Journal allows as how, at the California State campus, she is regarded as one of the most talented students to pass through the school’s Economics Department. She departs California for Yale’s M.B.A. program. The relationship with Wolf cools, leaving her free to reel in bigger fish. After her first year at Yale, she shows up for her summer internship at Star TV.
Here's Wolff's softer version:
She arrives in Los Angeles as the guest of the Cherrys at least half a decade before Chinese students in America are a routine part of campus life. She speaks little English. She goes to work in a Chinese restaurant. She registers at the nearest state-university campus. Almost immediately, the Jake Cherry situation blows up. Here’s the narrow view of even the most sensitive 19-year-old, not to mention one remote from family, country, language: This is just my life happening to me. Obviously—judging from the story’s outcome—she takes on new roles with some ease. The new adventure begins, and she’s open to it—she gets into it, she conforms to it.
The problem may be that she romanticizes each adventure, so after the initial exhilaration, she’s bound to be disappointed. It is not craftiness and duplicity and avarice that are her character weaknesses but, after she cycles through a few adventures, her constant need for excitement, for drama, for change, for the new. For further opportunity. At the same time, she’s getting educated. And because she’s naturally smart, with a type of studiousness not necessarily common to the adventurous, she’s forging another sort of narrative. While her strained personal life is going on, she’s starting to design another life, envisioning a career, understanding its direction, demands, logistics, exigencies.
Here's how Wendi and Rupert hooked up:
Rupert, bogged down in a long and tortuous negotiation to get a satellite network off the ground in Japan, decides on the spur of the moment he wants to go to Shanghai and see what he can get going there. He calls Gary Davey and tells him to get to Shanghai, too. It turns out that Davey and the other top people from Star are in Delhi. But Rupert still wants to go and needs a guide, and so Davey says, “All right, I’ve got an M.B.A. for you. She’s really smart.” And Chinese. He calls Wendi and says, “There’s somebody coming to Hong Kong who you’ve got to take to Shanghai. It’s Rupert Murdoch.” Davey later narrates, “That’s when the flame was ignited. To what extent it was consummated, that we can have no idea of.”
Interestingly, Wendi is not quoted in the telling of the tale.