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. Austin Tayshus

    This is just another outburst from the Tea Party crybabies.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  2. no CNN

    What stake does CNN have in these body scanners and the TSA? It seems every day they're trying to make it seem like less of a big deal, less of a problem, less of an overstepping of power. Are you daring us CNN? Do you want to see what we can do? Wwe will get these things out of our airports one way or another.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  3. docliptz

    TSA: "Only we know if Lady Gaga is a woman or not."

    November 23, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Kreczk

    Yeah...that old white haired lady looks like a HUGE threat. Good thing we have the over staffed and over blown TSA to set things straight.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  5. lwalker

    So they don't use the scanners at the majority of airports even though they claim they are necessary and are the highest level of security? and when Charlotte is asked if the walk through metal detectors are less safe she says "no"..... makes no sense. The head of the TSA also said they aren't violating people's rights because "flying is not a right its a privilege" so if your participating in a "privilege" you suspend your rights until the experience is over?

    November 23, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Really?

    LOOOOOOOOOOOOL

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/TRAVEL/11/23/plane.magazine.found/index.html?hpt=T2

    Despite all this extra security it doesn't even work.

    I'M SO GLAD OUR TAX DOLLARS SPENT ON THESE THINGS TO MAKE CHERTOFF RICH.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Weekly traveling cub

    I fly multiple flights per week. I don't have an issue with scanners or pat downs... Both are minimal in comparison to being blown up at 33,000 ft. Flying is not a right. If you don't want to be scanned, or patted down, there are multiple other options for you to get to your destination.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  8. remfpog

    Has anyone here seen Sanjay Gupta's report? These scanners won't even detect pancake shaped explosives hidden under a shirt.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Larry

    Looks to me like the terrorist have won. "Keep flying, don't change your way of life." No? Looks like these people already have changed our way of life. I'm all for security, but this goes too far to the extreme. If I wanted naked pictures of myself on a hard drive some where I'd do it myself. I don't want some moron feeling my "junk" or my wife's breast and Privates either. So I think the Terrorist have already won.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Anon

    The TSA just needs to hire hotter employees. I would not object if the guy patting me down looked like Brad Pitt. In fact, I might insist that one/ two of his other colleagues pats me down too!

    November 23, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Andrew Van Der Plaats

    AllI have to say is read this and then ask yourself if the people who run the TSA really have our best interests at heart, or if they're part of the problem, not the cure... http://www.redstate.com/erick/2010/11/18/another-tsa-outrage/

    November 23, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tired Houstonian

    How about we have two lines...one for anyone that resembles a middle-easterner, and one for everyone else.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Rick

    Way, way overkill. The only people complaining are the ones that either don't travel, travel very infrequently, or have something to gain politically. People that travel frequently, like myself, are not too bothered by it. Get a grip and worry about something that matters for once!

    November 23, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • DSH

      You hit the nail on the head. The teabaggers have nothing else to get wound up over now that the election is over so they picked this so they can continue to raise hell for no reason.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • lwalker

      speak for yourself I travel and Im tired of it.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. c'mon CNN

    I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm tired of CNN's articles trying to tell me that my anger of this is overblown. First it was 4 out of 5 travelers agree, now this. I used to like CNN and thought it was more balanced than some of the others (yeah, I know....), but I'm completely disappointed!!!!

    November 23, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sigurdur

      Totally agree. CNN has definately taken a TSA biased slant in their coverage. They are following the lead of the TSA web site. That is a great example of telling us "it's not that bad" and "most people don't have any issue with it". Boy, this is all over the press for a reason!!

      November 23, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. mkey

    In response to Time.com's Sora Song, given the odds of a 1 in 25,000,000 chance of being in a terrorist attack, I would much rather take my chances of being blown up than being molested by a bunch of Scabs working for the U.S. govt.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
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