In Works of Love, Soren Kierkegaard has some harsh words for peddlars of gossip that are very apropos for last summer’s News of the World scandal, and the ongoing investigations into media ethics prompted by it.
Is indeed any robber, any thief, any assailant, in short, any criminal, as fundamentally depraved as such a person who has made it his task, his contemptible means of livelihood, to proclaim on the greatest possible scale, as loudly as no word of truth is heard, as far-reaching across the entire country as something beneficial seldom reaches, penetrating into every nook where God’s Word hardly penetrates—to proclaim the neighbor’s faults, the neighbor’s weaknesses, the neighbor’s sins, to force upon everyone, even unstable youth, this defiling knowledge—is any criminal as fundamentally depraved as such a person, even if it were the caese that the evil he told was true!
. . .
Ah, there are crimes that the world does not call crimes, that it rewards and almost honors—and yet, yet I would rather, God forbid, arrive in eternity with three repented murders on my conscience than as a retired slanderer with this dreadful, incalculable load of crime that had piled up year after year, that may have spread on an almost inconceivable scale, put people into their graves, embittered the most intimate relationships, violated the most innocent sympathizers, defiled the immature, led astray and corrupted both young and old—in short, spread on a scale of which the most vivid imagination cannot form a conception—this dreadful load of crime of which I had never had the time to begin to repent because the time had to be used for new crimes, and because the innumerability of those crimes had secured for me money, influence, almost esteem, and above all a pleasurable life! In connection with arson, we make a distinction if someone who sets fire to a house knows that it has many occupants or that it is unoccupied; but by means of slander to set fire, as it were, to a whole society—that is not even regarded as a crime! We quarantine against the plague—but to the plague that is even worse than the Asiatic plague, slander, which corrupts the soul and mind, to that we all open our houses; we pay money to be infected; we greet as a welcome guest the one who brings the infection!