On Twitter, the hashtag for the whole affair seems to have morphed from #hackgate into #Murdochalypse: a sign that it’s already being seen in both a more personal and a more global manner than when it was confined to the News of the World. As, of course, is the craven and defensive editorial in the WSJ; do take my quick Tumblr poll on that if you have a Tumblr account.

It’s now too late for Murdoch and his minions to prevent the virus from spreading into the US, which of course is much more high-minded when it comes to journalistic ethics than the UK. Phone hacking alone wasn’t enough to garner mass opprobrium in the UK: it was only when the victims turned out to include a dead schoolgirl that some kind of line was crossed.

In the US, the line will be crossed much more quickly. In this country, it’s inconceivable that anybody would attempt to defend bribing police officers as something protected under the First Amendment, for instance. Or it was inconceivable, anyway, until today’s WSJ editorial came out:

The political mob has been quick to call for a criminal probe into whether News Corp. executives violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act with payments to British security or government officials in return for information used in news stories. Attorney General Eric Holder quickly obliged last week, without so much as a fare-thee-well to the First Amendment…

Do our media brethren really want to invite Congress and prosecutors to regulate how journalists gather the news?

If this is the best that Murdoch’s apologists can do, his battle in the US looks lost before it has even really been engaged. As the scandal spreads, it will certainly cause damage to Murdoch’s US media holdings. The only question is how big that damage will be.

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Felix Salmon is an Audit contributor. He's also the finance blogger for Reuters; this post can also be found at Reuters.com.