Carl Rowan: Columnist With Clout
The newspaper columnist's opinions - on everything from politics to toasters - have a far-reaching effect on readers
IT'S a cold day in Boston, and the snow is being blown all around by the frigid wind, but it's warm inside the Mercedes, and Carl T. Rowan settles in the rear seat for a rolling interview on the way from one radio program to another. This is Mr. Rowan's book tour, the grueling, nationwide round of interviews that authors must endure, repeating the same just-perfect-for-your-lead anecdote, the same offhand but incisive political observation, the same pleasant chatter.Skip to next paragraph
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Rowan is promoting his memoir, called ``Breaking Barriers,'' and he is cheerful despite his task because he anticipates making an early flight to Detroit, the fruit of a smooth-running schedule. His beige ultrasuede jacket is crease-free, his blue trousers are crisp - but after all, Rowan is accustomed to both book tours and broadcasting his message. This book is his sixth, and each week he produces five radio commentaries and appears on a television political talkshow. That's on top of his thrice-weekly syndicated column.
He gracefully fields an early question about how he digests the media, describing his daily, crack-of-dawn intake of seven newspapers (The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Washington Times, The Baltimore Sun, The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The Chicago Sun-Times). That day's Washington Post has a long profile of Rowan that contains the same list, but adds USA Today. Either way, he reads a lot of newspapers, and then watches the morning news shows.
``Often that generates the idea or the emotion to say, `You got to write about this subject....' Other times it may be that I've had lunch or dinner with someone the night before, and out of those conversations I get ideas for doing columns.''
Even a book tour can lead to column fodder. Rowan later writes of his New England sojourn: ``BOSTON - I sit here on a television show talking about a possible war against Iraq or the impact of a current recession, and I am reminded that these are not the things that cause me to worry most about America, 1991.''
``I spend hours,'' the column continues, ``agonizing over the fact that our big cities, and even our small towns, have become killing fields where young men especially are racking up record numbers of homicides.''
Ask Carl Rowan how he defines his role in the marketplace of punditry and he will say: ``A voice of the oppressed and of the poor, the voice for a new level of justice, a new measure of justice.'' But he knows that he's seen as a relic of a more liberal but discredited time, and that sense comes across in this same column, and not without bitterness. ``Fools who talk about `the fading liberal establishment' are so obtuse as to reject the wisdom of [Hubert] Humphrey about how to turn a 16-year-old possible burglar or drug-peddling murderer into an honored part of the American `establishment.'
``If only we had a Hubert Humphrey in power now,'' the piece concludes.
Rowan is particularly sensitive to accusations of being discredited. In 1988 he shot and injured a trespassing skinny-dipper who had taken a nocturnal swim in the pool at Rowan's home, and his critics howled hypocrisy: Rowan the liberal columnist stridently calls for gun control, but Rowan the homeowner defends his life and property with an unregistered handgun.