Just before noon eastern time Tuesday, as angry lawmakers demanded answers from the leaders of News Corp. over the phone hacking that took place at the News of the World tabloid, public furor toward Rupert Murdoch reached its peak.
The 80-year-old man alternated between drifting off to sleep and banging his fists on the table, insisting he knew nothing. Commenters around the world skewered the media mogul and hate groups about Murdoch multiplied.
It was then that a obscure comedian-activist emerged from the crowd, shaving-cream pie in hand.
But the cameras did not catch the pie tossed in Murdoch's face. Instead, they caught the back of a women clad in pink, jumping out of her seat with arm swinging.
In one fell swoop, Murdoch’s wife Wendi Deng stole the attacker’s thunder and became the unlikely heroine of the day, transforming her husband into a sympathetic and vulnerable figure.
“That it came in such unblinking defense of her husband means there must be something worth protecting in him,” NY Magazine’s Daily Intel wrote.
“That’s our Wendi,” said Vanity Fair writer Michael Wolff, not exactly a Murdoch fan. “She is great — incredibly full of energy, incredibly intelligent, living the life and just squeezing everything out of it.”
Just like that, the tide of public opinion had shifted.
It wasn’t the first time Deng had saved the day.
A Wall Street Journal piece from 2001 describes in great detail Deng’s support of News Corp.’s operations and investments in Asia, with one analyst calling her a vital “Chinese face [of the company] in China.”
The Journal also noted that while Deng “has been portrayed — by Mr. Murdoch and the company — as a traditional housewife who attends to decorating, her husband’s diet and the like. ... Ms. Deng is no homebody.”
Instead of tending house, Deng had for years at business meetings in China simultaneously translated, smoothed over awkward moments between Murdoch and Chinese businessman, and forged deals all her own.
This week, by flying to London for Murdoch’s hearing despite knowing she’d miss the opening of a film she produced called “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” Deng proved her loyalty to her husband.
The volleyball spike left no room for doubt.
On Twitter, one person mused: “At least the question of next News CEO has been settled, in muscular fashion. #Wendi #obviously,”