Analyze the following case study:
Early one morning, a 911 operator received a telephone call from a distraught woman who reported that she heard disturbing noises—crying and screaming—coming from a small daycare 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 daycare centers. The TV station sent a crew to talk to the daycare center owner, Melinda Wall, and outlined the crisis center’s concerns. 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 contacted the agency and this station. An agency spokesperson reported that its investigators are looking into the possibility of improper behavior by the daycare 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. Before 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 daycare 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 video’s sound 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 daycare 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.
The response addresses the following questions about the case study:
What will Melinda Wall have to prove to establish her defamation suit?
Do you agree with the station’s argument that Wall is a limited-purpose public figure due to all the allegation publicity? Explain the answer.
What should be the case outcome? Defend your rationale.