Eric Alterman Newspapers

Eric Alterman Newspapers-54
Along the way, almost all of the (frustrating) details of the profession are laid bare.First, media organizations are rarely honest about themselves.

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In many respects, these details are peripheral to the story of Salander’s struggle against the murderously evil genius she is battling.

As with most entries in this genre, the blood and guts—and the suspense that accompanies them—are what keep things moving and the reader riveted.

No less significant is Larsson’s treatment of the role money plays in the profession.

Journalists, few people understand, are awfully poorly paid.

I’ve already breached so many rules of professional conduct in this whole dismal mess that the Journalists’ Association would undoubtedly expel me if they knew about it….

One more won’t make any difference.” But what make the trilogy so valuable to the cause of journalism are the things it gets right.Her hacking talents—not unlike, come to think of it, those of the Murdoch cretins but in this case used only for good—make it possible for Blomkvist to become privy to all sorts of secrets that would elude a mere mortal journalist.What’s more, he becomes so personally involved in the story that he ends up caring far more about the fate of the individuals he is reporting on than about his responsibility to publish anything approaching “the whole truth.” Near the end of Dragon Tattoo, when Blomkvist finally finds the object of his frenetic search, he explains to her that she has no need to fear exposure: “I’m not thinking of exposing you.Ironically—and apparently somehow below the radar of most journalists in America—the profession was recently blessed with what could have been, and still might be, the most effective propaganda vehicle for the societal significance of journalism I could imagine.His name is Mikael Blomkvist, and the paunchy, forty-year-old, lady-killing, black-coffee-and-bourbon swizzling, cigarette-smoking, crusading, feminist, Swedish journalist just happens to be the hero of perhaps the best-selling book series in the world.As the business writer Chrystia Freeland has mused, “You don’t have to be a fictional Scandinavian social democrat to wish that business journalism in the United States was more about afflicting the comfortable and less about cozying up to them.” But if highbrow American journalists would look up from their decaf soy lattés, they might find much to cheer, or at least to ponder, in Larsson’s trilogy.For in addition to earning its bona fides as a first-rate, albeit decidedly implausible, murder mystery series, it also is among the most nuanced and thorough fictional demonstrations ever written of the importance of journalism to a democratic society. Not only do women fall in love with Blomkvist too easily, but the idea that the Robin to his Batman is the magical “Girl” with not only a generous set of tattoos but also a photographic memory and the ability to hack into any computer system in the world, is not bloody likely either.Larsson is also the first storyteller in any medium I have ever encountered who has an editor attempt to balance the monetary cost of a story against its societal value, something that has been the bane of this journalist’s career but rarely merits a mention in journalism-based entertainment.(Like Woody Allen’s infuriatingly magnificent on-screen apartments, the Hollywood version of the journalist almost always enjoys an unlimited expense account.) “Blomkvist had blown 150,000 kroner on the Salander story,” complains the magazine’s acting managing editor even though it’s a story upon which the capture of myriad murderers—to say nothing of the future of the nation’s democracy—may well depend.But in Larsson’s gothic and twisted murder mysteries, the attention to journalistic detail with which readers must identify to make it to the end can only endear them to the men and women sufficiently dedicated to Berger’s lofty mission statement to stick with it.The trilogy’s plot, while impossibly complicated to describe, much less condense, frequently turns on matters of journalistic propriety of the kind that are rarely discussed outside badly lit newsroom cafeterias and gloomy university seminar rooms.


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