It’s probably true that Pope Benedict failed to distinguish what he
could helpfully say as Pope from what he could legitimately say as an
academic theologian. He has been called to task for this omission,
and the world has noted the frighteningly ironic excesses of some of
the offended. What has hardly rated a mention, however (apart from a
brief reference by Barney Zwartz (The Age, 19/9)), is the
responsibility of those journalists who splashed it across the planet
in the first place. A small quotation from a primary source in the
rarefied environment of an academic oration is rarely the stuff of
world news. And university walls have echoed innumerable utterances
many times more incendiary than this one. (Or rather, they might
spark wars if anyone actually knew they’d been spoken.)

At best those who saw fit to report Benedict’s quotation were serving
the public’s right to know what has been said on one of the century’s
most vital subjects by one of the world’s most significant and
influential statesmen. But is it not fair to pose a less flattering
perspective? What if they represented the ‘pyromaniac’ sector of the
media, who too happily report – with scant regard for context –
whatever will arouse the most passion. The pontiff may have been
careless with the flint. But who poured the petrol?

Similar questions might be asked of the release of the photos of
Australian soldiers apparently engaged in disturbing behaviour with

Every minute someone somewhere makes a bad judgement. Thank God some
of them aren’t reported.

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