Tuesday 19 September 2006 12:14 PM

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 weapons.

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