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Devyn Williams

Steve Master

HU 143

10 February 2016

Nicholas Kristofs Alluring Rhetoric

The main purpose of most opinion articles is to persuade the audience that the way of

thinking of the author is the most correct. Many rhetorical devices can be used to seduce the

audience into believing one side over the other. For instance, writes sometimes provide shocking

facts which excite and even anger the audience. There are many issues in our society that when

mentioned make us want immediate action. An example of this is children. Nicholas Kristof, a

well-endowed rhetorician, noticed something going awry with our children, thus, triggering his

push for change and his want to gather support. Kristof is the author of the December 7th, 2012

New York Times article entitled Profiting From a Childs Illiteracy. In the article, Kristof covers

the controversial topic of parents purposefully pulling their children out of school in order to

collect a monthly disability check. Kristof makes a compelling argument by pulling at the heart-

strings of the reader and by providing captivating evidence to support his claim that illiteracy

will set a family up to be in a nasty positive feedback loop. But, with the help of rhetoric, Kristof

was able to reach his readers and get them to see things his way.

This article is likely to grasp the attention of the average reader of The New York Times

whom are mostly liberal, but also catch the eye of conservatives due to the rhetoric used by

Kristof. Additionally, Kristof is a syndicated journalist with his articles appearing in newspapers

around the country, which increases his audience by millions. People trust information they

receive from Kristof because he is winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and he does his research. In
preparation of him writing this article, Kristof placed himself in the middle of the situation by

going to the Jackson, Kentucky to get firsthand knowledge of the situation. He went into the

homes of the people mentioned in the article and had conversation with them to better

understand the full circumstances. This goes a long way in developing his strong ethos. The

audience appreciates this and better responses to what he has to say because of it. In order for

Kristof to encompass as many people in his audience, he concedes to the fact that conservatives

have a very valid point when it comes to the United States welfare programs: This is painful for

a liberal to admit, but conservatives have a point when they suggest that Americas safety net can

sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependence. Readers liberal and conservative

alike see Kristof as humble and capable of empathetic to the oppositions point of view

resulting in him winning their respect and full attention. Finally, Kristof uses other credible

people to support his claims. Richard V. Burkhauser, an economist from Cornell University is

quoted saying If you do better in school, you threaten the income of the parent. Its a terrible

incentive. The added support of an outside source makes Kristofs claims resonate with the

audience. Additionally, it backs up Kristofs want to change the program in order to stop parents

from pulling their kids from school; moreover, this provides him with leverage over those who

counter his idea of welfare reform. Now that Kristof has provided his audience with why they

should believe in him, he begins the art of persuasion through emotion, pathos.

Emotion can cause someone to change their mind in a split second. That said, Kristof

already had the help of the article being about children. This alone already had the gears of

emotion churning within the audience. Nevertheless, to drive his point home he writes using

diction that entices an intense emotional response: Most wrenching of all are the parent who

think its best if a child stays illiterate, because then the family may be able to claim a disability
check each month. Wow! The audience feels this. The word wrenching makes the reader feel an

immense amount of anger. Additionally, they pity the children who are being used as tools by

their parent. Moreover, Kristof brings to light that the people of the United States talk more

about poverty in Africa than they do here at home. He is not against fighting poverty in Africa,

but he is just simply saying that the United States must take care of its own as well. The average

reader will ask themselves, When was the last time I saw something about reducing poverty

here at home? Many of them will not be able to recall. The audience will react to this realization

and probably shake their heads in disappointment. But there is one quote in the article that really

seals the deal on the pathos side of things, the last few sentences of the article. Kristof writes,

Theres time to transform their [the unborn twins] lives, and they and millions like them

should be a national priority. Theyre too small to fail. Kristof fills the audience with a great

amount of hope, which they need in order to push for changes. You cannot expect that people are

going to want to some something that is already a dead cause. So, he ensures readers that there is

plenty of time; however, they need to act fast.

Logically, Kristof presents a very sound argument. He does so in many different ways

some of which include practical wisdom, artistic appeal, and statistics. All of these methods

combine to thrust his logos through the roof. He brings to light that Antipoverty programs also

discourage marriagea woman raising a child may receive a bigger check if she refrains from

marrying. This artistic appeal paid with fact is startling to read; thus, it echoes in the readers

head. He then adds that marriage is one of the best forces to blunt poverty. In married couple

households only one child in 10 grows up in poverty. Taking this one step further enables

Kristof to grab the bull by the horns and present hard evidence behind his reasoning. He doesnt

stop there though. Stating the obviously unobvious he writes, Because kids dont have a
political voice, they have been neglected. Kids are not allowed to voice their opinions regarding

how they should be treated to the political sphere; therefore, the country has forgotten about its

most precious investment. The audience is forced to face the fact that the welfare programs cater

to adults, which is not surprising, but seems careless. Lastly, the audience is dealt a hard blow

which knocks the wind out of them. The statistic that Today, 22 percent of childrent live below

the poverty line in the United States is abysmal and disgraceful. The audience can only read this

and think, How can almost 1 out of every 4 children be living in poverty here in the United

States? The United States is one of the most advanced countries on the planet, however, people

are still living in poverty. The audience is also saying to themselves that they probably know a

child who fits this statistic. To the audience this is not acceptable and causes them to side with


The rhetoric of this article lights a fire under the people of the United States. It boils the

blood of the audience to know that our children are suffering because of loopholes that parents

take advantage of. The massive amount of emotional and logical appeal present in the argument

makes for a very persuasive argument by Kristof. Hope engrained by Kristof coaxes that

audience in the direction of change as Kristof wishes. Not to mention the credibility and

reputation of Kristof that precedes him. He had successfully used rhetoric in the article to get his

perspective across to both sides and get his perspective the momentum to rally others into siding

with him. Only a skilled rhetorician can grasp the attention of so many and hold it long enough

to reshape how his audience sees things. Nicholas Kristof is just that.