Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Journalism and Persuasion

BOND: This made me wonder -- when I read your columns in the Post, I'm gathering a philosophy from what I read even though it's not evident. You don't have "this is my philosophy" written there. And I think I'm gathering some vision of you and I very much like the style at which the argument's presented to me. Who are you writing for? Are you writing for all of the people who read the Washington Post? Are you writing for the people who are Bill Raspberry fans and are looking for you? Are you writing for people who open the op-ed page and see a headline that grabs? Who is your audience?


RASPBERRY: That's good. The audience probably is slightly different with each piece, depending on what you're trying to do with it. I even find it useful from time to time to have a picture in my head, maybe of an actual person that I'm writing this thing to and I find that useful because I want to know this person who hasn't reached a conclusion I'm about to reach, what will be his -- ?


BOND: You're not preaching to the converted.




BOND: But don't you think that there's some people who share exactly your ideas who want some reinforcement?


RASPBERRY: And there're columns I've written that I think are calculated to reinforce, to say that what -- "You're taking a lot of heat on this thing, but what you did is a good thing." But, again, I guess I would have in mind those people who think it wasn't a good thing because I'm trying --


BOND: I interrupted you. You're talking about the ideal audience, the person you visualize. Who is that person?


RASPBERRY: Oh, it's a different person probably every time.


BOND: For each column?


RASPBERRY: Out of the pack. It may be the person that I really had a hammer and tong argument with --


BOND: An actual person?


RASPBERRY: An actual person. It may be an actual person. It may be somebody I read, have never met, but who makes a strong case for a view that is not my view. And without specifically referring to that piece of writing and dismantling it point by point, I may try to meet the objections I think such a person would make as I go through, granting always the possibility that there's more than one way of looking at everything. I think it's one of the "tricks" I've learned about persuasive argument. If you deny any smidgen of intelligence to the person you're trying to convert, you won't convert anybody.


Those crossfire point-counterpoint, battling talking heads things you see on television really don't persuade anybody. They are almost entirely two preachers preaching to their own choirs. They're not calculated to convert. I'd like to think that any one of those people I could talk to -- "I agree with the following things that you said. In fact, I've never had anybody say it quite it so well before. Would you agree that this is also true?" And you can start to exchange some ideas and not just exchange brickbats, and that's a lot more fun for me.