A Sacramento television station has fired an award-winning reporter over an uncensored bathroom video that appeared in a newscast.
Melinda Meza, the former Stockton bureau chief for NBC affiliate KCRA-TV (Channel 3), was released this week after her contract with the station ended, two sources with knowledge of the matter told The Desk.
Meza won several regional Emmy awards for her reporting in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Prior to joining KCRA, Meza worked as a general assignment reporter for Sacramento ABC affiliate KXTV (Channel 10) and San Francisco ABC station KGO-TV (Channel 7).
People who worked with Meza said she was well-connected, carried herself in a warm and friendly way and often chose to highlight the humanity in the subjects of her story. One of her final stories with the station focused on a 52-year-old Safeway warehouse worker who died from the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
Meza was one of several reporters to file stories from home after California officials imposed a shelter-in-place order due to COVID-19. In mid-April, Meza produced a story featuring do-it-yourself hair style tips, which included a segment filmed in her bathroom. The segment ran during KCRA‘s 6 p.m. newscast.
Eagle-eyed viewers quickly spotted what Meza and editors at KCRA did not: A mirror Meza used during the segment caught a glimpse of a nude individual in the shower behind her. The clip was quickly posted to Reddit and YouTube, and over the next few days, it was fodder for entertainment news websites all around the world.
Meza was placed on indefinite suspension while the station investigated the incident, according to a station employee who spoke with The Desk on condition of anonymity.
The probe revealed the clip in question was shot on Meza’s phone and provided to an editor less than an hour after the segment aired in the newscast. Neither Meza nor the editor noticed the nude individual in the background until after the segment aired on TV, the source said.
The editor was informally disciplined for their role in the gaffe, the source said. The Desk could not independently verify the identity of the editor who was assigned to Meza’s story.
News reports of the incident described the individual in the shower as Meza’s husband, but two sources said the station believed the individual was another member of Meza’s family. One source said lawyers from KCRA’s parent company Hearst became involved due to concerns the broadcasted image could lead to a criminal probe and were also tasked with “running interference” between KCRA and federal regulators who were weighing their own possible investigation.
Shortly after this story was first published, a spokesperson for Meza and her family reached out to The Desk to dispute information provided by both sources. The spokesperson said KCRA executives knew the person in the shower was Meza’s husband and never questioned if it was another family member.
The spokesperson also said a claim by KCRA that there were FCC complaints following the broadcast was demonstrably false.
In early July, Meza was notified that her contract would not be renewed when it expired at the end of the month. A KCRA employee said “gross negligence” on Meza’s part was cited as the primary reason for the station’s decision.
On Thursday, a staffer was directed to remove Meza’s biography from KCRA’s website. Her professional Facebook page was also deleted. As of Saturday, her personal social media accounts still listed her as a station employee.
Derek Schnell, KCRA’s news director, did not return a request for comment. Meza did not respond to several requests to connect on various social platforms.
Meza’s job-ending gaffe occurred as local television reporters struggled to balance the demand of producing timely news reports while working from home.
“It’s a big loss for us,” a KCRA employee said. “It’s difficult finding good reporters who are willing to work from [the San Joaquin Valley] and just stay in this market overall. And after the work she’s done for us, to fire her because of a mistake? It’s very unfair.”
This story was updated on August 4, 2020 to include additional information provided by a spokesperson.