Eric Alterman Newspapers

The journalists’ credo can be found in the instructions offered by Erika Berger, Blomkvist’s lover, best friend, and editor, to one of the young writers in her employ: “Your job description as a journalist is to question and scrutinize critically—never to repeat claims uncritically, no matter how highly placed the sources in the bureaucracy.Don’t ever forget that.” This could sound like the kind of pabulum that has entered into the speeches of all the gruff, quietly heroic newspaper editors once concocted by Hollywood, from Humphrey Bogart in Deadline, USA through Jason Robards in All the President’s Men.

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Along the way, almost all of the (frustrating) details of the profession are laid bare.

First, media organizations are rarely honest about themselves.

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.

We see Mikael and Erica struggle with love and danger, but also with questions of proper sourcing in a magazine article versus a book, a little magazine versus a powerful (and compromised) newspaper.

We see the drudgery of research, of interviewing sources, and building a story one detail at a time; of trying to figure out who’s lying and why, how to publish what one knows without giving away what one doesn’t, and then how to manipulate the numbskullery of television to build the biggest echo chamber possible for one’s work.At one point, Blomkvist finds himself wondering if his friend and aide-de-camp, Lisbeth Salander—the tortured, possibly autistic, punkish, tattooed “Girl” genius of the titles—might actually be guilty of the crazy crimes for which he knows she has been framed, simply because that’s what everyone in the media assumes.No one, not even the man who knows best, is immune to the crippling power of the media master narrative.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.“Today’s task is to write an editorial on the demonstrations,” Berger’s editorial-page editor explains to her. If the pinkos want to start a war with Denmark, then I have to explain why they’re wrong.If the pinkos want to avoid a war with Denmark, I have to explain why they’re wrong.” Larsson, moreover, is particularly astute in his portrayal of the psychological vulnerability that journalists feel when they try to travel independent of the pack.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.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.


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