Here’s one crackerjack cover story you won’t be reading in Good Weekend magazine any time soon – the revealing inside account of the life and times of Wendi Deng.
That’s because the story, a vast 10,000-word profile that took its writer three months of research across the world, was killed by Good Weekend’s editor (or someone above her) two days ago.
Crikey has learned that Good Weekend editor Judith Whelan commissioned Eric Ellis, a highly regarded Australian freelance journalist based in Singapore (who works as Fortune magazine’s South East Asia correspondent) several months ago to write the definitive story of Wendi Deng, the Chinese-born wife of Rupert Murdoch.
Ellis spent three months on the assignment, travelling to London, New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and to Xuzhou in Jiang Su province where the young Wendi Deng started her eventful life. Crikey understands he talked to dozens of people, including the ex-wife of Deng’s older first husband, Murdoch watchers, current and former executives and Wendi’s school friends and teachers.
The sheer logistics and ambition of the task suggest it was one of the most expensive and ambitious projects ever undertaken by the Good Weekend for a single feature.
The story is believed to be the most detailed account ever written about one of the world’s most interesting and – through her marriage – most powerful women. It follows a provocative Wall Street Journal profile of Deng in 2000, titled “Rupert Murdoch’s Wife Wendi Wields Influence at News Corp”, which caused a furore within Murdoch family circles because of the information it revealed about the genesis of the Rupert-Wendi relationship and the sensitive area of the breakdown of Murdoch’s 31-year marriage to Anna, the mother of Elisabeth, Lachlan and James.
Last year, Hong Kong’s Next Magazine investigated Deng’s early years, interviewing teachers, friends and classmates, dredging up some embarrassing childhood snippets (as noted in The AFR). “She had many talents — basketball, badminton, volleyball”, said teacher Zhang Shan Li. “Academic ability was just above average.”
Neither Wendi nor Rupert talked to Ellis for the spiked Good Weekend interview, Crikey understands.
After receiving the story several weeks ago, editor Judith Whelan this week decided not to publish – although Crikey is unaware whether Fairfax senior executives or board members were consulted in making the decision. But given its enormous sensitivity, not to mention the fact that News Limited is currently a 7.5% shareholder in Fairfax, it seems almost impossible to believe that the most senior figures at Fairfax were not consulted in the decision to kill the story.
We sought further information this morning from Whelan but she said she had a strict policy of not commenting on Good Weekend‘s story list. And the globe-trotting Eric Ellis also had a staunch “no comment”.