November 23rd, 2010
12:06 PM ET

TSA complaints: Warranted outrage? Or all bark, no bite?

In recent weeks there has been growing vocal anger regarding the Transportation Security Administration's procedures relating to pat downs and the use of full-body scanners. But amid all of the noise, what are the real complaints, and how much of the outrage is simply that - a growing chorus of bandwagon anger.

There certainly has been no shortage of horror stories - a shirtless boy receiving a pat down,  a flier had to show her prosthetic breast, a bladder cancer survivor whose urine bag broke during a pat down - and countless other stories of uncomfortable encounters with the TSA.

The coverage of the isolated incidents being reported raises the question of whether they paint a picture that isn't the reality for the vast majority of travelers.

The concerns: Fact vs. fiction

Polls have found a majority of Americans support the scans, though they aren't as supportive of the TSA pat downs.

A CBS News survey showed 81 percent of people polled approve of the use of full-body X-ray machines. A Washington Post/ABC News survey found 64 percent of people supported the use of the machines, while 32 percent were opposed. When it comes to the use of pat downs, respondents were practically split down the middle.  However, 37 percent of all Americans said they "feel strongly" that the pat downs are overly intrusive. Still 70 percent of Americans questioned in the Washington Post/ABC News poll said the new TSA rules made no difference in their decision to fly.

Our partners at Time.com, who are taking a look at the TSA procedures, report that the head of the agency John Pistole has said the outcry has partially been fueled by media-fed misperceptions.  He said that only a “very small percentage” of the 34 million Americans who have flown since the new procedures took effect have been subjected to the pat downs.

Politico: Go ahead, touch my junk

The TSA even released a list of "myths and facts" about pat downs and other security measures.

No doubt passengers still have some concerns. What about their 4th amendment rights? Are the scanners safe? Do they even work? Can they actually stop terror attacks? How far is too far when it comes to a pat down? What are the medical implications of the procedures? And who exactly should be getting the pat downs?

For some, it’s a question of  pat down or blown up?

BusinessInsider.com: Sorry, Folks, We'd Rather Be Body-Scanned Than Blown Up In Mid-Air

"It wouldn't be a total oversimplification to boil the issue down to a single question: would you rather get screened or blown up," Time.com's Sora Song wrote. "The new TSA whole-body scanning machines are designed to catch potentially deadly threats — like, say, explosive chemicals in underwear — that metal detectors miss. The end result should be a safer flight. It's a no-brainer."

For all those complaining about the security check hassles, CNN contributor Bob Greene asks, would you rather have no security at all?

"You can walk into any airport, with or without a ticket, and wander unimpeded right up to a boarding gate. You don't have to surreptitiously slip past a security checkpoint, because there are no security checkpoints, " he said. ""If you are carrying a loaded gun in your pocket or underneath your jacket, no one will know. In fact, if you do have a valid ticket, there will be nothing to prevent you from boarding a flight while armed to the teeth with concealed weaponry."

"Would you feel safe? Would you want to live in such a country?," he adds.

"You did, if you were a citizen of the United States before the 1970s."

Why all the hoopla?

The firestorm has only grown as close-up photos of the pat downs grace newspaper and website front pages, while the mockery has only grown on late night talk shows, "Saturday Night Live" and YouTube.

And let's not leave the press out of it. Howard Kurtz, writing for the Daily Beast, agrees in part with Pistole that the media are certainly part of the blame.

"From network newscasts to local TV, from newspaper front pages to a blur of web headlines, it seems untold numbers of women are having their breasts touched and untold numbers of men are feeling the intrusive hands of government guards near their packages," he writes. "Actually, that’s far from true."

And when it comes down to it, Kurtz said, part of the media attention is due to how easy the story is to tell - and that it has all the makings of the perfect press story.

"The narrative combines a number of elements: Hassled airline passengers (who can’t relate to that?); terrorism concerns; invasion of privacy, and a hint of sexual naughtiness," he said. "But the key here is that every local news outlet in America could send a reporter or a crew to a nearby airport and grab a piece of the action."

Then there's the whole "National Opt-Out Day" issue. It could either, as some organizations suggest, delay flights or completely fizzle out. As Time.com points out, it might just turn into a "More Like Opting Out Of Making Your Flight" scenario?

In reality, we ask: Will this idea turn out to be of "Get Betty White on 'SNL'" Facebook campaign success? Or will people who have likely paid a chunk of money to go visit their families take the time to engage in an act of civil disobedience and disrupt air travel?
Perhaps, it's just (pun-intended) all up in the air for now.
soundoff (1,704 Responses)
  1. mtb

    It's gotten beyond reasonable precaution. As has been noted elsewhere, a terrorist really doesn't need to get to the plane or gate. They could walk right into the middle of one of these serpentine security lines and let'r rip. NOTHING to stop them.

    We need to chill and realize that we CAN'T prevent or enact security measures for every foreseen scenario. It's rediculous. Maybe we as a country should sit back and consider what really is at the root of all the anger towards the West – and spend our money on education, diplomacy and creation rather than being the world police, who's only "expertise" seems to lye in it's military strength, greed and shoot first – ask questions later, mentality.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JoeSchmo2000

    All I know is that I will not be flying if I can help it, and if I am I will go out of my way to avoid these scanners. There is absolutely no reason why anyone should have a naked black and white photo of me. I don't care how safe they think they are making it. No amount of security is worth the kind of invasive measures they are taking. I hope the industry suffers, people cause major problems for the TSA, and the public outcry continues. I refuse to believe America will let this continue forever.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Chris

    Safety is highly overrated.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  4. KC

    So people are going off of anectodtal stories or videos that show one side of what happened. LIke the guy who started "don't touch my junk" did you see what preempted him to have to get searched? The boy who went through with his shirt off – the news of course didn't report at first how it was his dad who took off the kid's shirt. Video of some kid crying was because they put the kid's teddy bear in the x-ray machine. It's unfortunate about the woman who had to take out her prothesis or the man with the urine bag but you're going to base two incidents on the whole thing?

    Do you people hear yourselves when you talk? Or re-read what you write? I really think this is getting completely overblown and in part due to TSA not telling people about all this better.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • TRH

      I don't need those two incidents to base my opinion. It's my opinion that no one, needs to see an image of my naked body or touch my person in any way for me to board a privately owned and operated vehicle to travel between two points within this country.

      Your opinion is clearly different. I'd suggest your opinion is based on the idea that you're somehow "safer" by these measures existing. I believe FIRMLY to the contrary.

      Do you really think someone willing to DIE to kill others is going to bother having something detectable outside their body for these scans?

      And if you say sure, they'll put it inside them if necessary...then my obvious followup is would you be willing to have 100% of the passengers searched rectally? To feel safer? I'm honestly curious. Where do YOU personally draw the line with what it acceptable.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phinius

      Absolutely. Good post

      November 23, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • D

      You don't think the woman with a prosthesis or the gentleman with a urostomy bag are indicative of a larger problem? Here is this the thing – it may have only happened twice, but it should NEVER have happened at all. These people were clearly not a threat and were treated in a humiliating dehumanizing manner. Wait until it's your turn – if you fly frequently enough, you're bound to have one bad TSA experience – then you might have second thoughts.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bill

    This article is an outrage! It is insulting to Americans and American values.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Steve

    TSA is now offering free prostate and rectal exams for positive publicity. See story here: http://bit.ly/ajrQXI

    November 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bob

    Do the scanners actually make us safer?

    If so, can the amount of risk that is avoided be quantified? How many lives will be saved? How much property will be saved?

    I cannot assess whether the cost is worth the benefit without some data that demonstrates the level of benefit.

    For those who don't care about the hastle/indignity/invasion of privacy – Do you care that we spent a ton of money on this program? Do you care whether the money is spent on a program that is effective?

    November 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ouija147

    Question that the media outlets need to ask the head of the TSA:

    How do the scanners and pat downs keep terrorists from sneaking petn and detonators onto planes inserted rectally?

    His answer will be that they cannot. So this is not keeping you any safer...you have just given up more of your rights for nothing.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Trishia Jacobs

    Yes, I remember 9/11. I can tell exactly where I was when I saw the footage of 3,000 people tragically killed by terrorists. Since then, 340,000 Americans have died on our highways in auto accidents. Now, talk to me about safety......

    November 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sickofthiswhining

      Well, Trishia, we waged a useless war over those 3000 people. When was the last time we took out an entire country over a fender bender? Please.

      November 23, 2010 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. vince peterson

    You left out the best laugh getter of the whole thing – a fall down funny song/video on you tube called HELP YOU MAKE IT TO YOUR FLIGHT

    People will be singing it in the pat-down lines! Thank God for humor

    November 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mike

    I'd like to see poll results on how many americans support profiling at airport security. The obvious answer, until a non-muslim blows up an airplane in the U.S., is to profile – and then we can stop hassling the vast majority of travelers. If its OK to grab my junk or see me naked for "security", then surely profiling should be OK and we can get rid of this other nonsense

    November 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. vince peterson

    Here's the link for the best humor out of the TSA mess http://tinyurl.com/TSAtv

    November 23, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bah

    Btw, what do the Worst Case Scenerios (i.e.- man w. the urine bag) have to do w. anything? Do they somehow make the groping better in comparison? It's still groping!!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  14. tankrothchild

    Youtube Michael Chertoff.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  15. DrMabuse

    Here comes the media spin. It doesn't matter how many are OK with the illegal and invasive procedures–wrong is wrong.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
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