Tony Blair. Photo: Arsineh HouspianBehind the Murdoch break-up

As far as denials of burning hot stories go, the first one to come out of Tony Blair’s office was not that prudent.

A reporter for the Hollywood Reporter had managed to get through to a staffer for the former British prime minister and ask the question that was already fizzing about social media.

Were the rumours about Mr Blair and Wendi Deng true?

“If you are asking if they are having an affair, the answer is no,” said Mr Blair’s flack, to the evident delight of the Hollywood Reporter, which promptly reported the denial and became one of the first suable outlets to run the story that everyone else was already talking about.

You could drive a truck through a hole like that, and New York Magazine soon did just that, with a story headlined “Tony Blair Is Not Currently Sleeping With Rupert Murdoch’s Wife, He Says”.

After the Hollywood Reporter’s story went up, Mr Blair’s office evidently called back to emphasise that there has never been such an affair.

As soon as news broke that Mr Murdoch had begun divorce proceedings, speculation began about the cause of the split, possibly encouraged by some pantomime winking and nudging by the BBC’s high-profile business editor Robert Peston, the author of an influential biography of Gordon Brown that revealed much about Mr Brown’s rivalry with Mr Blair.

He tweeted, “Am also told that undisclosed reasons for Murdoch divorcing Deng are jaw-dropping – & hate myself for wanting to know what they are.”

The Manhattan-based site Gawker – whose slogan is “Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news” – jumped in with a suggestive post headlined “People Are Googling ‘Wendi Deng Tony Blair’ ” and continuing: “In the wake of the news that Rupert Murdoch has filed for divorce against Wendi Deng, people seem to be entering the above-referenced search terms into Google. Presumably, they’re just trying to look up a column Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff wrote last year in The Guardian, headlined ‘Tony Blair and the Murdochs: A Family Affair’.”

It went on to quote from that very column, which described how Mr Blair had become one of Ms Deng’s first “official social conquests”.

Ms Deng’s friendship with Mr Blair and other powerful men and women have long been known. In a profile of Ms Deng published last year, The New York Times reported that she “has emerged with her own independent career and has immersed herself in a social circle that includes David Geffen, Larry Ellison, Tony Blair, Nicole Kidman and Bono, one that is often free of her husband’s presence”.

The Times story also reported, without naming its source, that Mrs Murdoch had been “enraged” when Mr Murdoch said in TV interview that “while Grace and Chloe, his daughters with Wendi, would have an equal economic interest in the family’s trust, they would not have the same voting rights as his children from his previous marriages, Prudence, Elisabeth, Lachlan and James.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.