I grew up in the Catholic faith and migrated to Judaism, both of which give serious attention to tale-bearing. The catechism of my childhood spoke of calumny and slander, synonyms for telling lies about a person. Detraction, damaging a person's reputation by revealing some truth about them, is just as bad. If anything, Judaism is even more serious about tale-bearing, called lashon hora (evil tongue) in Hebrew.
By any name, the use of both factual and fictional story for negative purposes is part of our public culture, painfully obvious during the recent election.
It's complex though. Here is a simplified but useful way to think about it, especially for authors.
- Positive Non-Fiction: If you're doing a memoir and working with me, you'll be somewhere in this quadrant. Even so, it's not a perfect world. When I did my own memoir, I realized that my story was shaped by my memory--or absence thereof.
- Negative Non-Fiction: If you're doing a tell-all memoir, especially if it involves other people in your life, you may be moving into this quadrant. In any case, how you treat other people in your work is something that comes up. If you're doing muckraking report, you might be in this quadrant. Then again, positive and negative, is in the mind of the beholder.
- Positive Fiction: If you're writing a novel and have a positive purpose, I'd start you here. Some authors choose fiction because they can get at truth in a novel that they could not get at in a memoir without hurting someone needlessly.
- Negative Fiction: It's hard to think of my customers here, but the category is real. Fake news, at least the kind that relies on a lie to damage a person's reputation or life.