A mere 24 hours ago, Wendi Murdoch, née Deng, wasn’t having such a great time. Her husband was in the middle of the worst crisis of his career, which happened to be rotten timing for the opening of the movie she’d co-produced. Her marriage to Rupert seemed to many like a classic trophy case — despite her own impressive résumé, Wendi is, after all, much younger and far more beautiful than her very powerful husband. And then with one instinctual protective swap, she became Wendi Daaaang, responsible for the most riveting moment of a memorable day, stealing the thunder of the pie thrower, even.
Deng’s volleyball career was swiftly analyzed (was that a spike?!); an MP told Rupert, “Your wife has a very good left hook.” Wendi became, suddenly, not a mysterious gold digger, but a genuine pop-culture hero: GIFs like the one above ricocheted around the social web, as did the Awl’s funny gallery of her five best stone-cold faces from the hearing. A fake Twitter account sprang up (“I like to karate chop hippies. You have a pie, I have fists of steel”), and she was a trending topic on the service, with a Chuck Norris–like folk legend quickly coalescing (“At least the question of next News CEO has been settled, in muscular fashion. #Wendi #obviously“). Wendi’s moment even brought the scandal to the attention of her native China, where it had been previously ignored. Headline writers reached for the vaguely uncomfortable Asian Tiger comparison — she was a Tiger Wife and a Tiger Mother, and she was also, in good old-fashioned American tradition, standing by her man.
The sober-minded New Republic declared her slap its favorite moment of the day; the FT ran a glowing opinion piece on the couple’s performance, with Wendi’s obviously buoying up her husband’s rather less stellar day. Michael Wolff, not exactly known for his chummy relationship with Rupert, glowed to Reuters, “That’s our Wendi. She is great — incredibly full of energy, incredibly intelligent, living the life and just squeezing everything out of it. She is incredibly ambitious.” And that’s why the pop-culture Wendi moment matters: Even people who despise her husband can’t help but be delighted by her fierce swipe. That it came in such unblinking defense of her husband means there must be something worth protecting in him, goes the next unconscious strand of thought. Even more than the pie in his face, it was a moment that suddenly made the villain of the piece seem a sympathetic figure; the tough-as-nails wife softens him somehow.