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Carl Rowan: Columnist With Clout

The newspaper columnist's opinions - on everything from politics to toasters - have a far-reaching effect on readers

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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.

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.''

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