If there are any lessons to be drawn from this transatlantic kerfuffle, they may lie in the answer to that question.
After all, in the grand scheme of things, the News of the World was little more than a remote, though raucous, backwater of the Murdoch empire.
Finding those tabloid waters polluted was about as surprising as discovering SuperFund sites along the New Jersey Turnpike.
Still, it's the scandal that can't stop titillating. Just this weekend, heads rolled from New York to London at both News Corporation and Scotland Yard, the FBI opened an investigation, Congress promised hearings, Parliament began inquiries.
To be sure, hacking into people's voice mail is not only illegal, but wrong. So is bribing a Bobby -- or worse, the people to whom they report.
But why is it such a Big Story on both sides of the Atlantic?
I'm no fan of Fox News or the New York Post. And I preferred the Wall Street Journal before it became a general interest newspaper (though there are things I still admire about it).
But I suspect that what feeds this story is the thirst among some people for further confirmation that Rupert Murdoch is the reincarnation of Jack Sparrow -- a swashbuckling and ruthless buccaneer on the waters of modern media.
Maybe he is. I have no idea.
But psychologists have essentially proven that we human beings naturally search for information that confirms our beliefs and ignore what contradicts them. Anthropologists have even suggested that confirmation bias, as this tendency is called, serves an evolutionary purpose -- it makes for stronger arguments.
In fact, two cognitive scientists have even speculated that our vaunted reasoning faculties are not designed to enable us to find the "truth" about anything, but to argue more forcefully whether we're right or wrong. Winning arguments is a distinct advantage if you belong to a species that depends on clans and tribes for survival.
"Reasoning has evolved and persisted mainly because it makes human communication more effective and advantageous," they write. "The function of reasoning is .. to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade."
The News of the World scandal has legs simply because it's such a rich and delicious vein of bias-confirming intelligence.
AT&T's former CEO, Bob Allen, played that role back in 1996 when people were worked up about downsizing and corporate greed.
And, as was the case back then, Mr. Murdoch won't be excused from the barrel until someone or something else displaces him as a richer source of bias-confirming argumentation.