Las Vegas Sun

September 26, 2022

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TV reporter’s lawsuit raises question of media’s boundaries

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Metro Police Officer Melonie Dredla shoots in 2008 at the department’s firing range in Las Vegas.

You’ve seen it before: A TV news reporter wants to spice up a segment on cops and their guns, so she goes to the police firing range, puts down her microphone and picks up a semi-auto. Rat-a-tat-tat—ratings!

But here’s what you didn’t see: Doctor’s visits to repair shattered ears, permanent hearing loss and tinnitus — a ringing sound former KTNV Channel 13 reporter Christina Brown says she can’t shake.

See, when Metro got a slew of new semi-automatic rifles in 2006, Brown decided she would fire some for the story. According to her court filings, she shot more than 50 rounds at the department’s range. Also according to her court filing: She was provided protective headsets, but not protective earplugs.

Police officers who were there to oversee the news stunt got headsets and earplugs, Brown says in her lawsuit. So three months ago she sued Metro Police. She wants the department to cover more than $13,000 in medical bills and pay an as-yet-unstated figure for pain, suffering and anxiety.

So the next time reporters go to the firing range, their heads may be swaddled from sound. That is, if they’re allowed back. (Though head swaddling might be an exaggeration, police spokesman Jay Rivera said the suit could determine whether reporters will be allowed at the range. Otherwise, the department does not comment on ongoing cases.)

Brown, who left Las Vegas more than a year ago to become a national news anchor for MSNBC, was advised by her attorney not to comment.

Brown wasn’t a stranger to firearms. She spent four years in the Air Force, serving at home and abroad. It was the military, in fact, that launched her into the mainstream media — her first reporting position was for the American Forces Network, the U.S. military TV and radio news service.

Depending on how you look at it, this either works in Brown’s favor or against her. Although she cannot be painted as a flaky reporter who didn’t know how to use a gun, she also can’t claim she was shocked by the sound.

Metro, through court filings, squarely blames Brown for her injury, arguing she was negligent and failed to “mitigate her own damages” — in other words, she didn’t see a doctor soon enough. It’s unclear when Brown first sought medical care. The suit is in its early stages, and the paperwork will pile much higher before a winner emerges.

If lawyers on either side want to get their hands dirty, serious questions will be raised in court about the nature of covering news, about a reporter’s public and private life, about the hazards of being on TV and when, if ever, a journalist can step out of a story and sue the subject.

If the lawyers just want to get it over with, well, somebody’s cutting a check, and quickly.

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