The sin of slander is usually well understood when false charges are circulated against a good man with the malicious purpose of injuring his repute.
And the meanness of the sin is well appreciated by those who remember Shakespeare’s famous “Who robs me of my purse steals trash,” etc. But men need to be reminded that the sin of slander may be committed sometimes by circulating against our neighbors that which is true.
The Golden Rule applies here.
If an obligatory motive calls for (as the ends of justice) the warning of the innocent against the bad man’s designs, the attack on his good repute made by true charges, the attack should be made. But if no right end is gained, then the wounding of his good repute and heart is a gratuitous evil. Remember, men do not cease to be objects of duty and charity because they really are bad. Again, all useless narration of sins is evil, because it needlessly familiarizes men’s minds with sin.
“Vice is a monster of so hideous mein,
As, to be hated, needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with its face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”
These famous lines express an important law of habit.
A soul is polluted by every unnecessary inspection or contemplation of polluting action. When a praiseworthy, moral motive dictates such inspection as when a righteous judge investigates a case of crime for the purpose of preserving virtue and order, the healthy motive preserves him from the moral contagion. But he who dwells upon the dissection of foul deeds without such a righteous object exposes his soul to the infection of vice without the prophylactic. The benevolent surgeon inflicts pain upon numerous tender children and sick persons, but he does it to save life. The practice, therefore, does not render him cruel, but more benevolent. Yet the man who should practice as frequent inflictions upon his fellow creatures without an obligatory object, for the sake of idle amusement, would make himself infamously inhuman.
Let this parable be applied.
Vice should never, then, be delineated, but be covered with silence except when its disclosure is necessary. This argument proves the gigantic folly and wickedness of all those publications, such as “police report,” “criminal news” and vicious fictions which portray sin and crime to their readers. Their authors and agents deserve such reprehension as would be rightly visited upon persons who should sell fashionable ribbons and laces infected with the plague in order to gain money. Parents should expel all such publications from their homes as they would the clothing of small-pox patients. In America this evil has been allowed to grow to an enormous and shameless bulk. What need is there to inquire after the causes of that outbreak of commercial dishonesty and domestic vice which alarms the public mind, when so many import these fountains of pollution into the bosom of their families in the current newspapers and novels?
Dabney, R. L. (1897). The Practical Philosophy (pp. 509–510)