Friday, January 7, 2011

Our Ever More Subtle Newspapers

Posted By on 01.07.11 at 08:30 AM

Borge Hellstrom
  • Borge Hellstrom
The artful withholding of information isn't exactly what journalism is supposed to be about. But famous writers do it — so maybe it's worth a try.

The climax of the William White trial in federal court was covered by the dailies Thursday in stories most intriguing for what they didn't say. "Anxious jury convicts white supremacist," the account by the Tribune's Annie Sweeney, began, "Federal jurors deciding the fate of a self-avowed white supremacist accused of soliciting an attack on a former juror two years ago had a stunning request Wednesday for the judge: Clear the courtroom of spectators before they delivered their verdict.

"But with the backing of the prosecution and the defense, the judge rejected the unusual request..."

The jurors were understandably nervous. They'd just decided to convict White of seeking violence against Mark Hoffman, foreman of the jury that in 2004 convicted white supremacist Matthew Hale of soliciting the murder of a federal judge. Sweeney wrote that as the jury was individually polled, Hoffman, "who had testified about how fearful he was about being targeted...looked upward with a wide smile and put his hands on his head. He struggled to keep his composure, fighting tears."

Their work done, the jurors, whose names were not released during the trial, were escorted out of the building by security guards.

So it was a dramatic tale Sweeney told. Was her story's air of menace subliminally enhanced by the Tribune's decision not to name the judge presiding over the trial?

Or was it a decision? I was guessing screw-up until I read Natasha Korecki's account in the Sun-Times. She didn't name the judge either!

At this point I was puzzling at what appeared to be an agreement reached by both papers to protect the judge — Lynn Adelman of Milwaukee — who'd been unwilling to protect the jurors as much as they wanted to be protected. But then I got in touch with Korecki.

Whoops, she said.

So it wasn't intentional. It was a coincidental double screw-up. Or, to put it another way, it was a synchronous exploration of a classic literary technique employed to draw readers into the narrative and set their imaginations at play.

Then there was the Janet Maslin review the same day in the New York Times of a dark new mystery novel out of Sweden, Three Seconds. Maslin told us the authors are "the odd-couple team of Anders Roslund (journalist) and Borge Hellstrom (ex-criminal)."

Ex-criminal as in ex-assassin, or ex-criminal as in ex-tax cheat? Maslin didn't say. The authors' website doesn't say, either, though it identifies Hellstrom as a founder of Criminals Return Into Society, a "crime prevention organization." It says he also played the guitar in some bands. Maybe he busted up a hotel room.

I spent a fair amount of time online trying to pin down the depravity that gives Hellstrom his street cred and got nowhere. He and Roslund have written five books, and one reviewer after another has been content to pigeonhole him as "ex-criminal." A reviewer in Mississippi blithely asserted that Hellstrom "speaks crime as a second language," but I don't think he knows any more about him than I do.

No matter. Hellstrom's been to the Dark Side. Everything else is ours to invent.

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