Hemingway’s Search For The True Sentence (Listen Up BBC and NYT)

Taking special care to avoid telling the truth.

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Jack Engelhard,

Jack Engelhard
Jack Engelhard
צילום: מתוך האתר האישי

I still teach journalism and creative writing occasionally and I teach these rules: Keep it straight. Keep it simple. Keep it true.

I am not entirely original on this approach. On such basics, Ernest Hemingway, a newspaper reporter, and a fine one, before he became a great novelist, put it like this: “All you have to do is write one true sentence [at a time]. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

He added that sometimes it takes him an entire morning to find that one true sentence…but that it is always there if you search hard enough.

Imagine, then, how much more difficult it is to find or to create a truly convoluted sentence, crooked prose. 

Imagine, in other words, the troublesome task confronting The New York Times and the BBC when faced with the truth, but now, due to prejudice and bigotry and to hell with fairness and objectivity, they must find the words to express exactly their prejudice and bigotry.

This must take more than a single morning, but after searching hard enough, the editors do find the means to twist the truth into a soft pretzel.

After all, there are deadlines to meet and lies to tell.

Over the past couple of weeks Arabs throughout Israel have been murdering Jews. That is a fact.

That is a fact that ought to be simple enough to communicate by print and by air by use of the most straightforward language.

Instead, to pick just one incident, the murder by Arabs of an Israeli couple driving with their children (who are orphaned in an instant), the Times and
Like this from the BBC: “Palestinian shot dead after Jerusalem attack kills two.” It was not Arabs who murdered two Israelis in cold blood... – rather it was Jerusalem.
the BBC chose a mix of perverted language and passive prose to cloud, to confound, and even to incite their readers and listeners against the Jews, the victims.  

Like this from the BBC: “Palestinian shot dead after Jerusalem attack kills two.”

Therefore we are informed that it was not Arabs who murdered two Israelis in cold blood – rather it was Jerusalem.

Followed by likeminded absurdity from the Times: ”Fear of new intifada accompany surge in Mideast violence.”

Tough to beat either of those for discombobulated writing. That’s an F-minus in any writing class, after the class stops laughing at such gobbledygook.

There is nothing funny, however, when such bad writing reaches the level of insanity and constitutes a crime against grammar.

What the Times is trying to say but refuses to say is: “Palestinians murder an Israeli couple sparking fears of a new intifada.”

But that would be a true sentence and a true sentence might be harmful…might let the truth out of the bag and in today’s journalism the truth must never be told, certainly not when it’s about Israel. The Arabs must never be offended and the Jews must never get the benefit of the doubt according to the rules that govern today’s Style Books ever since telling it straight went out of style.

Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac: “That’s not writing. That’s typing.” 

Here, after all, is the crux, that we cannot begin to talk about the disservice being done to Israel until we understand the disservice being done to plain English. We know it from history that brutalizing the language is a first step toward brutalizing the people.

That’s where we find ourselves today and the sin is against both; the sin is against the Jewish State and the sin is against the etiquette of proper journalism. For the harrowing sinfulness about how this is done, I recommend the superb piece that was posted here yesterday by Arutz Sheva’s Ari Soffer.

Is there no shame at the BBC? Is there no decency at The New York Times?

What an insult to the craft that was done so well by Edward R. Murrow, Ben Hecht and Chicago’s Mike Royko. Each word meant something. They would be appalled at what’s happening to their honored trade. What a crime against the art practiced so beautifully by Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Salinger.

Clarity, above all clarity is what they pursued. Keep it straight. Keep it simple. Keep it true.

Isaac Babel wrote: “No steel can pierce the human heart so chillingly as a period at the right moment.”

You don’t have to be Jewish. None of us is safe when journalism, the profession we rely upon to illuminate, chooses to obscure. Chilling.

New York-based author and bestselling novelist Jack Engelhard writes a regular column for Arutz Sheva. His novel “Indecent Proposal” was translated into more than 22 languages and turned into a Paramount motion picture starring Robert Redford and Demi Moore. His latest thriller, largely about media bias and deception, is “The Bathsheba Deadline.” Website: www.jackengelhard.com