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A News Corp Whodunit

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Why was a Fox News contributor running a dirty-tricks campaign against Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife Wendi?

That’s the explosive question at the heart of a Gawker report today. Earlier this afternoon, John Cook revealed in a post that Bo Dietl, a longtime Fox News contributor — whom Roger Ailes once called “a man I trust” — had been hired to spread rumors about Wendi Deng’s extramarital affairs. Cook reported that on November 21, 2008, the gossip website received an anonymous e-mail tip about Deng. The e-mail included a Microsoft Word document that read like a dossier about Deng’s rumored dalliances. “What media mogul billionaire’s wife has been guilty of so many sexual escapades that she is the talk of LA?” it began. The dossier reportedly described Deng as a “vicious … hustler,” a “licentious … whore,” and a “nymphomaniac.” Dietl told Gawker that Ailes had nothing to do with the smear campaign of Murdoch’s then wife. “It was not Roger Ailes who hired me to look into Wendi and Rupert,” he told Cook.

So who was Dietl working for? One thing is clear: Ailes and Deng had well-known tensions in the past. In my book, The Loudest Voice in the Room, I report how Ailes held a critical view of Murdoch’s Chinese-born wife. Rupert’s marriage in 1999 to Wendi marked a turning point in the mogul’s relationship with Ailes. With Wendi as his emissary, Rupert was ushered into a new circle of Hollywood liberals, where Ailes’s politics were outré. Ailes viewed Wendi as an opponent inside the company. He complained to one New York Republican politician that Rupert was telling him to tone down Fox’s coverage of China because of Wendi. In another meeting with Fox News executives, Ailes said, “Rupert doesn’t understand the threat of China.” Ailes vowed to buy a parcel of land near his upstate compound so that a group of Chinese investors could not build a missile silo to take out West Point, as he feared they might.

Although Dietl says Ailes had nothing to do with the smears, Ailes was a beneficiary of Rupert’s decision to divorce her. As I was finishing my book last fall, a close Murdoch associate told me that Ailes and Murdoch had rekindled their friendship now that Wendi was out of the picture. “Roger has been very supportive during the divorce,” the insider said. “They’ve been spending a lot of time together behind closed doors.”

A News Corp Whodunit