Eric Alterman Newspapers

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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.

Blomkvist lives on junk food, coffee, and cigarettes, with virtually no creature comforts.

The freelancer who is murdered for the information he stumbles upon can only afford a secondhand laptop.

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.

When a terrific story by another underpaid freelancer about the manipulation of, yes, global toilet prices and the exploitation of third-world workers threatens the public reputation of a newspaper’s owner as a man of decency and honor, it goes through only because Berger has recently left Millennium to be the newspaper’s editor.

The cynicism of the crotchety time-servers she encounters at her new job is also not of the cute, heart-of-gold variety that we typically find in fictional portrayals of the profession.

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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