Early one morning a worker at a city crisis center 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 next to her house. Workers at the crisis center notified a city social services agency of the report. But because the employees at the crisis center believed that the social services agency was lax in its enforcement policies regarding day care centers, the call from the neighbor was relayed to a local television station, WIXR, as well. The TV station sent a crew to the center to talk with the operator 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 television station broadcast the following report:
“ A city social services agency is reportedly looking into allegations of children crying and screaming at the Happy Days Day Care Center at 1456 Marblehead Way.
A neighbor reported the unusual sounds to a crisis center, which in turn contacted the agency and this station. An agency spokesperson reported that its investigators are looking into the possibility that improper behavior by the staff at the center is causing the 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 center.”
The television report generated considerable publicity about the center and its operator, 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. One of the children had turned up the volume, so the sound resonated throughout the neighborhood.
Wall sued WIXR for libel because of its initial report. She argued that it contained numerous errors, and that the station employees had been negligent in preparing the story. She cited the following errors.
a. Happy Days had been open for 16 months, not six months.
b. Wall operated a day care center in Toledo, Washington, not Toledo, Ohio.
c. 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.
A. What will Wall have to prove to establish her libel suit?
B. 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?
C. Will Wall win her case?