Tom Watson, the Labour MP from West Bromwich East, is an old friend of this TW by now, the two of us having met years ago by virtue of being early bloggers with the same name, and similar world views. For more than two years, the honorable Mr. W has pursued the phone-hacking scandal in Britain like a terrier, through a voice-in-the-wilderness period when neither Labour nor Conservative nor Metropolitan Police wanted to face off with the world power known as Rupert Murdoch.
The allegations now finally coming to full light are both stunning in the depths of cruelty, impunity and arrogance displayed by the Murdoch empire - and shocking in the clear peril that once-impervious empire now faces. At 80, Murdoch faces his existential corporate moment. He has shuttered the 168-year-old News of the World and his multi-billion deal to create a cable cartel in the UK may well be dead on arrival. His stocks are sagging. His family's reputation is shattered. Still, Mr. Watson is pushing the pols and the police to stop their foot-dragging - because there remain many fruitful avenues of investigation, alleys of inquiry that certain powers would prefer remain darkened forever. Though he's no longer a lone wolf, Tom's Guardian post of only a month ago is worth revisiting, if only to consider where the story has gone since then ... and to realize just how on point his words were:
It is extraordinary that the alleged plot to target a sitting prime minister was not immediately investigated. I can't think of a single country where this would be the case. Since getting on the trail of the hacking scandal, I've had to pinch myself to check I haven't landed in a John Le Carré novel.
On top of this failure, there's also the failure to investigate the alleged targeting of the girlfriend of an heir to the throne. Ask yourself what the prime minister would have publicly said should the allegation have been made that the BBC hired a criminal private investigator to conduct such activities.
Yet it's not just the Conservative prime minister who could do with a spine replacement. It's the former Labour ministers who were allegedly hacked by News International's private investigators who have made secret, out of court settlements with the company. I want to be clear to my parliamentary colleagues (in the Lords and Commons): if you were the target of a News International private investigator you have a democratic duty to speak out. You owe it to yourselves to put an end to a toxic media culture that allows journalists to think it acceptable to hack the phones of the families of murder victims.
That toxic media culture is resident in the deepest hallways and studios of Murdoch's American venture, Fox News. Yet for all its ideological extremism and attachment to gross untruths - of which the sad and sickening birther "issue" was the peak on a mountain of slime - there is no indication of the phone hacking scandal jumping the pond...yet. Tom Watson MP has grown fairly expert in using the digital network to nudge his case along, to bring attention directly to this issue from the citizenry, and to push the press to cover it. Last night, he nudged me with a link to an article in the Daily Mirror: Phone hacking: 9/11 victims 'may have had mobiles tapped by News of the World reporters'. Clearly, this is big news. Hell, Gawker's got it now.
What's particularly interesting to me is the timing.
Check your calendars, folks. The somber 10th anniversary ceremonies marking the attacks of September 11th are exactly two months away. So the questions are these: Should the Murdoch hacking scandal spread to 9/11 victims and their families, will Shepard Smith resign in protest? Will Sarah Palin defend the media empire reportedly paying her $1 million for her analysis? Will Chris Wallace deposit his checks in good conscience? Will Michele Bachmann stamp on the American flag by appearing on Fox? Will Mitt Romney condemn Rupert Murdoch? Is Roger Ailes a patriot?
UPDATE: Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff told CBS News: "The News of the World has lots of reporters at any given time on the ground in the US. Many of its stories, particularly many of its celebrity stories, are dateline here. So, I think that's the next step."
UPDATE II: The Guardian's expose, by the crack investigative of Nick Davies and David Leigh, widens the scandal signifianctly by revealing the Murdoch scandal goes well beyond the News of the World tabloid, and involves breaking into private medical records of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his family.
Tom Watson spoke in Parliament today about the "institutional criminality at News International." He didn't mention the institutional cowardice of his former party leader. Apparently former PM Tony Blair asked Brown to get Watson to back off the hacking scandal. To his ever-lasting credit, Brown refused and my friend Tom kept digging - and, I might add, kep the story buzzing the back channel via Facebook, Twitter and his blog.