When you hear "small town," do you think of Mayberry, U.S.A.?
Or do you think of a sprawling Dallas suburb with a quarter-million residents?
The Los Angeles Times' answer might surprise you:
According to the Times, Garland, Texas — site of Sunday night's shooting outside a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest — is a "small town."
The Los Angeles newspaper uses that description in this lede:
GARLAND, Texas — Pamela Geller is a 56-year-old Jewish arch-conservative from New York, a vehement critic of radical Islam who organized a provocative $10,000 cartoon contest in this placid Dallas suburb designed to caricature the prophet Muhammad.
Elton Simpson was a 30-year-old aspiring Islamic militant from Phoenix who fantasized to an FBI informant about “doing the martyrdom operations” in Somalia and was convicted in 2010 of lying to the FBI about his plans to travel to the volatile eastern African nation.
Their lives intersected Sunday in this small town in north-central Texas, an unlikely venue for a violent collision of cultures. After a Sunday evening shootout outside the contest site between police and Simpson and another man firing assault rifles, both gunmen lay dead in the street. And Geller quickly posted a defiant blog: “This is a war on free speech. ... Are we going to surrender to these monsters?”
Just how "small town" is Garland?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it's a little larger than Mayberry — with an estimated population of 234,566.
Apparently, everything in Texas really is bigger, including the "small towns."
The Lone Star State has 1,216 incorporated cities, notes the Texas Almanac. Of those, 1,202 have fewer residents than Garland, which besides being a "small town" ranks as the 12th-largest city in Texas — behind only Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, El Paso, Arlington, Corpus Christi, Plano, Laredo and Lubbock.
The "small town" of Garland even makes the list of America's "Top 100 biggest cities." Wonder how many "small towns" can claim that distinction?
Seriously, as one of who has experienced big-city traffic in Garland and written about gang violence in that inner-ring suburb, I'm curious why the Times felt compelled to portray the community as a "placid" suburb and "small town."
The other day, I stressed the importance of news organizations reporting basic facts related to the Texas shooting.
Honestly, though, I meant more complicated details than the size of the community where the attack occurred. But if the Times can't get that simple fact right, how can anyone take seriously the rest of what the newspaper reports as fact?
My suggestion for the Times next time it's tempted to resort to the hackneyed "it's-so-shocking-that-this-occurred-in-a-small-town!" lede: Report the actual number of residents. Then readers can decide for themselves whether it's Mayberry or one-seventh the size of Manhattan.
Moreover, don't tell me it's a "placid" suburb. Report the actual crime rate.
I'd attempt to critique the rest of the story, but I can't get past the clichés on the location.