Rowan Williams – too intellectual to excel in a public role in the media age

Rowan Williams – too intellectual to excel in a public role in the media age

I’m sorry Rowan Williams is stepping down as Archbishop of Canterbury. I met him, briefly, at a reception at Lambeth Palace a couple of years ago, held in honour of a charity for which I’d done some media training. He was generous and welcoming, and full of an understated charisma. He had a reassuring, dignified presence, and projected utter sincerity.

Frankly, I was surprised. I was expecting him to be the awkward, gaffe-prone priest that I’d read about and seen on TV. So why the disconnect?

One incident sums it up, and I often refer to it in my media training courses. In 2008, sensational headlines followed an interview Williams gave, in which he appeared to suggest that Britain should allow elements of Sharia Law to be introduced. His problem stemmed entirely from the fact that he didn’t have a succinct enough message, so the media summarised it for him, and in the process inevitably distorted his real meaning.  He’s never lived it down.

Williams didn’t have a great media image even before that, yet with such fierce intellect, he must have realised that he could play the game much more effectively than he did. The fact that he chose instead to be true to himself (at least I assume he chose to so do), might be to his credit as a man, but is surely one of the many reasons the Church of England continues to decline. From the perspective of a dispassionate observer, its decade under Williams’ stewardship hasn’t appeared to be a spectacular success.

The media is all about simplifying things, with the perverse result that it’s sometimes easier to give an effective interview when you know little about your subject. Williams, on the other hand, is a vastly learned intellectual, much more at home in a university lecture theatre, where he can take an hour to explain his argument, than in a TV studio, where a 20-second soundbite might be all you end up with.

His next job as Master of Magdalene College Cambridge will surely, therefore, be much more to his liking.

 

Article date

March 19th, 2012

Robert Taylor

Media Trainer

@RT_MediaTrainer

My main passion is media training, and I’m proud to be one of the UK’s most experienced and successful trainers in this field.

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