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 ‚Äúvery small percentage‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄĒ like, say, explosive chemicals in underwear ‚ÄĒ 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. Pat

    If I have to have a complete stranger run his/her hands over my body & private parts to get on a plane – I'll drive!

    Since my children were toddlers we've drummed in to their heads not to let anyone touch you any place you wear a bathing suit – now, I'm being asked to do just that while my young children stand and watch! It's disgusting and a gross violation.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • maggie

      So is getting blown to bits because I happened to be on a plane full of whiny passengers.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. David

    Some people dont mind being x rayed to keep them safe. They dont mind having their mail opened, their phones tapped, their emails read, their car stopped, their kids searched and now their private parts probed. I cant wait to see what these neuters dont mind next year.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      Body cavity searches...."Squat and cough!"

      November 23, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Yes, we know there are a lot of people who don't value freedom. At all, apparently.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • maggie

      James and Dave - say that to the hundreds of people who got killed on 9/11 on these airplanes. I think they might not have minded a little more effort at keeping them safe.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Joe

    Fact. Michael Chertkoff who was head of Homeland Security at the time lobbied to get them installed in the nation's airports. However he was being paid by the same manufacturers of these machines!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Family of 5

    JUST IN CASE THE AIR LINE INDUSTRY IS READING THIS, WE ARE NOT TAKING OUR ANNUAL TRIP TO ORLANDO THIS YEAR, AND WILL NOT UNTIL THIS IS FIXED. WE DON'T WANT OUR KIDS EXPOSED TO MORE RADIATION AND WE CERTAINLY WON'T HAVE OUR KIDS BEING GROPED. WE WILL BE VACATIONING CLOSER TO HOME, WHERE WE CAN DRIVE.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cassandra

      Too bad you're willing to miss out on an awesome vacation for you and your family because of the overblown hype the media has caused around this. I travel frequently and have experienced no problems and have been treated with the utmost respect by employees of the TSA. Don't listen to all the rheteric and enjoy a vacation in Orlando!

      November 23, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tbone

      Hey, family of 5 and every other scared by what the media has over hyped. It is a choice you make. Don't fly, drive, ride your bicycle. I'll bet if you had a loved one die on 9-11ypu would probably want even stricter measures taken.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. M Kelly

    overblown as usual ! you dont like it, dont fly. god forbid something does happen and it will be back to our reactive policies again!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. TM

    The concern for me is the radiation emitted by the machines. Pat downs don't bother me. The image of my naked scanned body doesn't bother me. The ineffectiveness of this in general doesn't even bother me. The world laughing at our foolish attempts to feel safe doesn't bother me.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Will

    So is this what America has come to? The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave? More like the home of the "Scared Senseless". So bureaucrats make policies that keep us "safe" that "may" infringe on our civil rights of protection of privacy and the right against unreasonable searches (some say searches for safety are reasonable, but I disagree when they go to this extreme for law abiding citizens, they don't even do this level of searching in combat zones, and as far as I can tell, I still have the right to free speech to voice my disagreement, so there I said it). So people tell me to either get pat down, scanned or don't fly. So now when bureaucrats step on our liberties, we are suppose to just bow down and accept it or else we are stupid? Any of you that thinks this is "ok to stay safe" don't deserve your freedom and if this is allowed to continue, you will realize it when it is too late...

    November 23, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      Good post. I think we still have the right to free speech to voice our disagreement, but some on this website who comment "quit whining and drive" apparently disagree! It's frightening. A line from Orwell's Animal Farm comes to mind: "They had come to a time when no one dared speak his mind, when fierce, growling dogs roamed everywhere, and when you had to watch your comrades torn to pieces after confessing to shocking crimes."

      November 23, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. chris McCabe

    Exactly to be expected from increasingly liberal and leftist CNN. A watered down apologist piece on behalf of the Obama administration and their support of the TSA goon squad. And what a joke the poll is – the poll and poll takers have all been told the machines are safe, but to this day, attempts by independent scientists to study the effects of the radiation emitted have been denied by the makes and by the TSA and there is evidence that even the low level radiation could do damage. CNN sucks, period.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phinius

      There's something seriously wrong with you for deliberately spinning this that way and
      leaving out Chertoff and the real people behind the TSA and these machines – the Bush
      administration.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sickofthiswhining

      Phinnius - did you expect anything different from such a partisan comment?

      November 23, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • chris McCabe

      @Phinius Yes, Bush and Chertoff had their parts to play, but they're not in charge now. Why do you liberals continually look to blame the PREVIOUS administration for everything your chosen one can't do right? He was hired to do the job, warts and all. Not to apologize for being handed problems. We hire leaders to solve problems not make excuses.

      November 23, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • chris McCabe

      @Sickofthiswhining don't worry, I don't REALLY believe CNN leadership is leftist (except maybe Ted). It's just the outcome of their childish marketing strategy that forced them to take the defacto alternative view from market share leader FOX news, resulting in their continual left of center spin and apologist blather. At least NPR is for real and the nuts at FOX actually drink the cool aid. This isn't news, it's sugary news gum drops without substance or critical analysis.

      November 23, 2010 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
  9. MARINE VET

    Get over it. If they didnt have security and something happened you would make a fuss too. As someone that has been deployed to Iraq multiple times I am all for it!!!!! You dont like it drive!!!!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      And you were much more likely to be killed there than from a terrorist blowing up a plane. Yet you still went. You're chance of dying in a car accident is only 1 in 6500 yet you probably don't give it a second thought when you step into your car.

      This isn't about security it's about security theatre. Big difference.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marie

      Thank you for your service, Marine Vet –

      November 23, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • plato

      i assumed jarheads were all about freedom, your saying its ok to give up civil liberties. we aren't in a war zone

      November 23, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Rights

    For all those talking of "rights"...

    YOU have the right of choice. Abide by these security measures and give the others who choose to travel the peace of mind, or choose NOT to fly.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      I DON'T have the right to choose that my tax dollars don't fund this gross violation of civil rights, whether or not I choose to fly.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • maggie

      Sarah - and I don't have the right to choose whether or not my tax dollars fund the things that you DO believe in. This is not about you or me and I think that a large part of what is going on is that people have this bizarre idea that the TSA, whose main job is to keep the flying public safe, cares one whit about what you think or not. You know the price of admission - you either abide by it and fly, or you don't. Pretty simple to me.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Gary kimzey

    "only a small percentage"????? So civil rights can be violated, as long as those targeted are a small enough percentage if the population?

    "Blown up or patted down?". Are those really the only two possible options? Really?

    CNN is supposed to be better than this. And America is supposed to stand forked than this.

    Oh, and saying that only a minority would change their travel plans is disingenuous, isn't it? I am required to travel by air for my work. I doubt I'm alone. So will the new screening procedures cause me to change my travel plans? No. Does that mean that I am ok with them? Absolutely and unequivocally not!

    November 23, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheWall

      Seconded.

      I live in Alaska. If I have to travel to San Francisco, Dallas or Montreal for work - which I have had to do in the past - and especially in the winter when the ONE highway leading back to the lower 48 states is iced up and almost impassable, how exactly am I supposed to do that if I "choose" not to fly? So my only choice is to be fired or to be molested by the TSA? Just so you can *FEEL* safe?

      November 23, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marie

      I'm with you Gary – Besides, only a minority of travelers are discretionary travelers (vacations, visiting relatives, etc.). The majority of travelers are business travelers and do not have a choice. So, that statement is, indeed, disingenuous.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • maggie

      Then it sounds to me like you have a problem.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Michael

    America is packed full of whiners. And when the next plane attack goes down we will hear the chorus of whines.... why didn't you save us! What happened to our country?

    November 23, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cassandra

      Exactly!

      November 23, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      So what happens when someone tries to bring down a plane by smuggling explosives in a body cavity? Will you happily submit to an anal probe by some peon in the airport because you think it makes you safer?

      November 23, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • maggie

      Joe – obviously, there are limitations. But unfortunately, we live in a world where you have to do as much as reasonably possible to keep the flying public safe. Neither you nor I are privy to the intelligence that comes across every single day. To therefore try to pass judgment based on our feelings getting a little hurt is a bit out of touch, don't you think?

      November 23, 2010 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Randall

    Stop flying and that will end the problem.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. chicagoK

    The problem is that the people can no longer trust the mainstream news media. Exaggeration, lies, scare mongering, bias, innuendo ... there just isn't any room for truth in the mouth of the truth terrorists. How can people know what is really going on today? It may be time to regulate the news media. $1M fines for false information. $1M fines for a biased story. $10M fines for ruining a reputation with a guilt pointed finger when the person is acquitted. $100K mis-representing a science article and front/lead story retraction with detailed explanation of how the error was made and what is being done to fix it. 5 years in prison for any reporter connected to 3 erroneous reports.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. The Goldenrule Name

    Everyone at airports should just repeat to themselves: "It is very important that the Jews control the Holy Land cop-out instead of the Muslims." Possibly have a sign at airports stating such, as Israel is the root of the entire problem - and that's according to bin Laden.

    I realize we've been killing thousand of innocent Muslim civilians since 9/11, actually thinking we're making those people like us more; that we actually targeted civilians, not Saddam Hussein, in economic sanctions against Iraq from 1990 to 2003; but, still the root of the problem is Israel's violent, selfish unfairness against Muslims.

    The Goldenrule Name (the-goldenrule.name)

    November 23, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
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