Early one morning, a 911 operator received a telephone call from a distraught woman who reported that
Early one morning, a 911 operator received a telephone call from a distraught woman who reported that she was hearing disturbing noises—crying and screaming—coming from a small day care center adjacent to her house. Workers at the 911 operation center notified a city social services agency of the report. But they also passed on the information from the call to a local television (TV) station, WIXR, because they believed that the social services agency was lax in its enforcement policies regarding day care centers. The TV station sent a crew to talk to the owner of the day care center, Melinda Wall, and outlined the concerns that had been reported to the crisis center. Wall declined to comment. That night the TV station broadcast the following report:
- A city social services agency is reportedly looking into allegations of children crying and screaming in the Happy Days Day Care Center at 1456 Marblehead Way.
- A neighbor reported the unusual sounds to a 911 operator, which in turn contacted the agency and this station. An agency spokesperson reported that its investigators are looking into the possibility of improper behavior by the day care center's staff as the cause of children's crying and screaming.
- Happy Days Day Care Center is owned and operated by Melinda Wall, who refused to comment about the allegations. The center has been open for six months. Prior to that, Wall operated a similar center in Toledo, Ohio, for two years. The State of Ohio revoked Wall's license in 2006 when it found unsanitary conditions at the day care center.
The television report generated considerable publicity about the center and its owner, with more television reports and newspaper stories. But an investigation by the social service agency revealed that nothing illegal or dangerous was occurring at Happy Days. The noise reported by the neighbor came from a video on a television. The sound from the video resonated throughout the neighborhood because one of the children had turned up the volume.
Wall sued WIXR for defamation because of its initial report. She argued that it contained numerous errors and that the WIXR's employees had been negligent in preparing the story. She cited the following errors:
- Happy Days had been open for 16 months, not 6 months.
- Wall operated a day care center in Toledo, Washington, not Toledo, Ohio.
- Her license for that facility was not revoked. The state merely refused to renew the license unless Wall added additional bathroom facilities at the center, and she could not afford to do that.
Please answer the following questions.
- What will Wall have to prove to establish her defamation suit?
- The station argues that because of all the publicity about the allegations, Wall was a limited purpose public figure. Was she? Why, or why not?
- Will Wall win her case?