So the air war continues. While the hacking trial has revealed how central the politics of personal destruction were to the now defunct News of the World, the Mail on Sunday has continued its campaign to yoke Tony Blair into Rupert Murdoch’s divorce from Wendi Deng.
Both front page splashes, from last Sunday and yesterday, seem to come from briefings from within News Corp, or sources close to the 82 year old media mogul, so should be taken with a boulder of salt. Though even the internal sources admit Deng’s friendship with Blair isn’t the cause of the divorce, they’re happy to keep the rumour mill rolling with a mixture of innuendo and guilt by association – a classic tabloid technique.
As George Monbiot suggested, that Deng and Blair had an affair is dubious and has been vigorously denied, but Blair and Murdoch did have a political liaison that lasted nearly 20 years. Indeed, in the famed public rapprochement at Hayman Island News Corporation summit in 1995, as the new Labour leader Blair flew half way around the world to court Britain’s most powerful press baron, Murdoch compared their political dalliance to “two porcupines making love…. very carefully.”
This much is sure: that affair is now over, and Murdoch’s flirtation with New Labour seems to have ended in recrimination and vendetta. While tabloids blind us with the personalisation of politics, it’s worth looking at the politics of this personalisation.
If anyone has any doubts about the Mail’s political agenda in this, another comment article on Sunday made the association between Blair’s political decision making over the Iraq invasion, soon to be under close re-examination with the publication of the Chilcot report, and his apparent involvement in the Deng Murdoch divorce.
At the time, no one supported him more than Rupert Murdoch, who used The Sun and The Times newspapers to defend Mr Blair’s trustworthiness whenever he was in trouble.
Question marks over Mr Blair’s trustworthiness in his private life are the last thing he needs.
‘A pretty straight kind of guy,’ is not how Rupert Murdoch would describe Tony Blair today.
But at least the Mail on Sunday are now putting up the rebuttal from Blair’s camp.
Several of Mr Blair’s close friends have asked him directly if he had an affair with Ms Deng. He has vehemently denied it to all of them.
One of those who challenged him said: ‘I believe Tony. He would never do such a thing and he is not a liar.’
Another said: ‘Wendi was going through a very difficult time with Rupert and Tony was a shoulder to cry on. There is nothing more to it than that. Rupert is old and confused and has imagined all this.’
A long-standing friend of Mr Blair said: ‘Wendi was in a hateful marriage. Tony is a sympathetic guy and helped her through a bad time.’
Friends of Mr Murdoch insist that he ‘did not act lightly’ before ending his 14-year marriage to Ms Deng and a political and personal bond with Mr Blair forged nearly 20 years ago.
A media executive who has known Mr Murdoch for 40 years said: ‘Rupert has supported Tony politically and personally through thick and thin.
‘He thought he could trust him, but he was wrong.’
Another friend commented: ‘What really hurt was finding out that Tony had been in his homes without telling him.’
A clue to Mr Blair and Ms Deng’s get-togethers emerged when an email from Ms Deng, which referred to arrangements for Mr Blair’s visit to Carmel, inadvertently went to the wrong person and reached Mr Murdoch.
A source said: ‘Wendi got careless. After that, it all poured out.’
Mr Murdoch went to his ranch in Carmel and asked the household staff, many of whom have worked for him for years, if it was true.
They told him Mr Blair had stayed there with Ms Deng on two weekends in October 2012 and April this year. They said he came with his UK police protection team which accompanies him all round the world.
Sources at Mr Murdoch’s offices in London say the staff’s account came as a shock, not least because Ms Deng had told him that she had gone to Carmel to visit friends on one occasion and on the other that she was going alone. In fact, she was there with Mr Blair on both occasions, said the source.
However, there’s still the possibility this is a genuine misunderstanding and falling out between two erstwhile friends. Divorces do that, and Wendi always had more in common politically and culturally with Blair than her former husband. Michael Wolff, Murdoch’s biographer, says she was instrumental in getting Wolff to interview the former British prime minister. The Daily Telegraph on Monday morning seemed to have a heartfelt response to the suggestions and rumours from one of Blair’s “close friends.
“He has looked me in the eye and said that was never the case, and that there was certainly never any physical aspect to his association with her,” a close friend of the former Labour prime minister tells Mandrake.
“What Tony says happened is that Wendi became ’emotionally dependent’ on him and he allowed himself to get drawn further and further into a dangerous web. He was aware all along that this could come out, not least because there is CCTV footage of him arriving and leaving Rupert’s ranch in Carmel in California, when only Wendi was present. He just found it very difficult to turn his back on Wendi when she was going through a difficult time.
- Relations between Tony Blair and Rupert Murdoch ‘collapse’ after claims of meetings with ex-wife Wendi Deng (independent.co.uk)
- Wendi’s crush on Blair revealed: Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife wrote of ‘warm feelings’ as it emerges that tycoon banned former PM from summit after he said ‘It’s me or Tony’ (thisismoney.co.uk)