Brisenia Flores Is Still Not Quite National News: Why?
We've written twice this week about the trial of Shawna Forde, a troubled anti-immigration crusader, who stands charged with first degree murder for the 2009 killing of 9-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father in Arizona. Gina Gonzalez, Flores' mother, was also shot in the botched home invasion; she testified Tuesday about witnessing her daughter's death. And yet, despite the tragic narrative -- including its cursory similarities to the death of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green at the hands of Jared Loughner, also in Arizona -- plus the inclusion of other hot-button issues like immigration and extreme political discourse from groups like the Tea Party and Minutemen, which Forde identified with, much of the mainstream media continues to avoid the story of Flores' death. In this Friday edition of our media column, Press Clips, we'll examine why.
At the risk of sounding callous, the Forde trial has all of the ingredients of any salacious murder that receives nonstop media coverage. Allegedly, Forde, along with her accomplices Jason Bush and Albert Gaxiola, who are to be tried in the spring also on murder charges, broke into Flores' family home in Arivaca, Arizona thinking Flores, a suspected drug dealer, had a stash of $4,000 in cash. Forde, the prosecution claims, planned to rob the family and use the funds to support anti-immigration vigilante work aligned with the Minutemen group, who have since worked to distance themselves from Forde's extreme measures. In that alone, there's gripping subject matter: drugs, immigration and cash. And ultimately, the cold-blooded killing of a child.
Flores' mother Gina testified this week:
"He's all out of bullets because he used them on me and Junior and he stands there and he loads the gun right in front of her," Gonzalez sobbed. "I can hear her say 'Please don't shoot me."
But the only place for regular, reliable updates from inside the courtroom is the Arizona Daily Star's At the Courthouse blog.
Today, for example, come dispatches from the testimony of Oin Oakstar, a drug runner who has admitted to stealing marijuana from Flores in the past. On the stand, he said he was prepared to kill Raul Junior Flores, Brisenia's father, but never would have touched the Flores family:
Then, Shawna Forde and Jason Bush got involved, Oakstar said.
A couple days before the Flores' died, he turned down an invite to go with them to kill Junior and on the actual night of the murders Oakstar said he was at home with his girlfriend.
Again, to step back, this is the sort of drama media outlets search for far and wide. Here it is, with the chance to go deep into just a few of our nation's many problems, like race relations and even gun control.
But another search of the New York Times, the paper of record, today returns a results page like this:
There are a lot of possible explanations for the lack of coverage, not the least of which have to do with personnel and funding constraints. News organizations spread thin, attempting to cover two wars and international uprisings. But more cynical critics point to questions of race -- white alleged killers and brown victims -- or the media narrative of the Minutemen as merely a well-intentioned "neighborhood watch" group.
And perhaps the narrative comes with too many questions. How can we expect an audience to sympathize with a suspected drug dealer who put his family in jeopardy, an imaginary editor or producer might wonder. But the array of questions, of crime mystery and of more abstract morals and political values, are exactly what make this trial so rich for a reporter. The defense may even have a case: "Essentially, this case is a doughnut, a lot of circumstantial evidence all around," said Forde's attorney, Eric Larsen. It's ripe for an in-depth expose, and perhaps there's a New York Times Magazine feature in the making. It might not be a racial or political bias. But when two of the most major news outlets refuse to even acknowledge the existence of the trial, what else are we supposed to think?
That said, a few outlets are worth acknowledging:
The blog Crooks and Liars has been diligent in their coverage for over a year.
The Daily Beast also has someone reporting from the trial, noting right away, "Latinos are still wondering why the murder of 9-year-old Brisenia Flores raised none of the outcry of rancher Robert Krentz's killing, which fueled Arizona's tough immigration law."
Clearly there's no such thing as justice when it comes to a crime of this nature, but as far as media attention goes, this doesn't even come close.
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