Houston-area man can't hang flag from his apartment balcony -- but why?

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This news item has been all over conservative websites and outraged Facebook posts for the past few days:

KHOU.com, 6/18/14: Man says apartment complex called his US flag a ‘threat to Muslim community’

In brief, a new tenant at an apartment complex in Webster TX hung a large American flag from the railing of his balcony. An apartment manager told him to remove it. The management says it's because it was hung in violation of "property rules and guidelines" that "maintain the aesthetics of our apartment community and provide for the safety of all residents." But the tenant says:

"What really stunned me is that she said it’s a threat towards the Muslim community."

Well, this has caused a national outburst of vitriol. I'll come back to that later.

The apartment complex has posted a public response on its website:

Stars and Stripes Misunderstanding

We understand that the recent events surrounding the display of the United States Flag on the balcony railing has caused a great deal of consternation. We regret that the policies, consistent with the hotel and apartment industry, have created an incorrect perception that we are not supportive of patriotism.

Residents are allowed to display flags inside their balconies. However, tarps, tents, flags, towels or clothing are not permitted on or over the railing of balconies and patios in order to maintain an aesthetically consistent image.

We are committed to providing a safe, comfortable and pleasant living environment to our residents through service, attention to detail and exacting expectations. Our goal is to deliver a positive living experience for all of our residents and regret the misunderstanding.

We apologize for anything that may have been communicated regarding the policy that was offensive to Mr. Tran at The Lodge on El Dorado in Webster, Texas. We admire our resident’s patriotism and proudly display our Country’s flag at the entrance to our community.

A person claiming to be a resident of the complex confirmed this in a comment to the original news article, saying: "There are many flags in the complex. They are simply hung correctly. You can hang it IN your balcony or from a pole. We are just not allowed to have anything hanging from the balcony rails. I've been fined before for having a towel on the rail. It's in the lease."

The apartment complex also posted this statement on their Facebook page:

We understand that the coverage has caused a great deal of attention and we share your consternation.

Neither the Property Manager nor the community stated or inferred that any flag was a threat to any religious community or nationality.

We proudly display our country’s flag at the entrance of our community. We are committed to providing a safe, comfortable and pleasant living environment for our residents through service, attention to detail and exacting expectations.

Our goal is to deliver a positive living experience for all of our residents. We welcome residents and prospective residents of all religions and nationalities to our community.

So they are specifically denying the inflammatory allegation about a claimed "threat towards the Muslim community." This comes down to a classic he-said, she-said situation, with no witnesses or independent confirmation of what was really said.

In fact, as far as I can tell, there are no other news reports on this incident, except for the zillions which merely quote this original KHOU story. Which brings us to the question that bothers me the most: What the heck is going on with this news story?

I mean, first of all, the complex does display the flag, and lots of other tenants have patriotic displays. So there's already something fishy about the anti-flag allegation.

Then there's the news video itself. By the time the KHOU news crew arrived at the complex, the management already had a prepared statement ready, and they had a police officer in the lobby who escorted the news crew out. Now this is just weird. Who calls the police just because a news crew is coming? And why would the police department even send an officer out?

I would love to hear a recording of police radio traffic for this incident. My guess (and I admit this is just a guess) is that there had been some sort of shouting match between the tenant and the management, and police had been called in anticipation of more trouble. Okay, or maybe the management just had buddies on the police force. In any case, it's clear that something had happened before the news crew arrived. And that makes me want to know everything that was said by both sides, before the tenant was allegedly told that he was threatening the Muslim community. Maybe the manager's words had nothing to do with the tenant's flag, and everything to do with something the tenant said.

Anyway, this is just speculation. Here's what we do know. One man is angry about being told to take down his flag. He tells a news crew about the threat-to-Muslims allegation, which the management denies. KHOU runs this as a patriotic outrage story on the evening news. It's now been 2½ days, and they haven't run a followup story. Meanwhile, the story is basically copied verbatim by conservative news media, none of whom do any further investigative jouralism. Cue the legions of online commenters who spread the story along with a spew of anti-Muslim bigotry.

The news media and online pundits get lots of hits on their site, the outraged people get to exercise their adrenal glands, and everybody is happy. Well, except for the Muslims, none of whom were even contacted by KHOU to see whether they actually feel threatened by the flag.

UPDATE: KHOU finally posted a followup article on June 24th:

Houston apartment complex explains problem with resident’s flag display

…On Tuesday the complex’s corporate CEO Jenifer Paneral responded.

“There was never a statement that the flag was a threat to any religious community, or to anyone at any point in time,” she said.

…She said this comes down to, “a clear violation of our policy.”

That’s because she said the flag was too big to hang off the balcony railing, where it could fall on someone below. Paneral said the property manager explained that to Tran.

”She did refer to other communities, other religious groups in that explanation, but it was just an example of the types of things that were hanging over the balcony,” said Paneral. ”But at no time was there ever a statement that it was a threat to any community.”

Tran is standing by his version, that he was told the flag was a threat to the Muslim community and it had to come down from his balcony. …

So it still looks like a simple misunderstanding of what was said, which got unnecessarily blown up into a national incident.