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. gasbag

    If I ever fly again, most likely not, I'm going to eat lots and lots of methane producing vegetables the night before. Enjoy the grope and let a few colon rumbles loose during the procedure.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rauff

    the usa, the land of the paranoic weiners..no wonder why the world hates you

    November 23, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • mark

      they like you hate us because she gets to touch the meat and its what you want

      November 23, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. barbara

    Even if I never get a pat down, the concept is an affront and a violation of my human rights. These TSA employees are not trained professionals. They are low paid laborers. I will never fly again.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • trublu

      So you would have no problem with being patted down by a "trained professional"?

      November 23, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • LW

      I'm guessing if that first ('don't touch my junk') guy didn't post his video, this wouldn't even be a big deal. The media blow everything out of proportion. And, in addition, people are like sheep here....they all jump on a bandwagon – whatever the 'bandwagon of the day' happens to be. And it's especially exciting when it's related to a possible infringement of our 'rights.' Most people probably wouldn't even think of commenting on this until they see someone else scream about it. AND it's likely that most of those complaining aren't even frequent fliers. I've been to Europe many times, and as far back as 5-8 years, the security in some airports consists of lines for women and lines for men. Everyone got patted down. Big deal.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • kidkoala

      You don't need to be a "trained professional" to search someone for weapons or anything dangerous on a person. How much more training can they really get? Train them to do it with their eyes closed, while holding their breath and use only pinky fingers?

      November 23, 2010 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • ftgb4a4

      Um, hello? They are actually TRAINED and they conduct themselved PROFESSIONALLY! The screeners are just doing their jobs.
      I fly every week and 99% of the TSA agents I come across are very nice. You need a dose of kindness Barbara.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Lulusez

    It is THE MEDIA who keeps the harangue going. The story doesn't die down because you KEEP STIRRING THE POT. At least add a few more ingredients to the story after a few days (read: a little more depth). The point is not whether the screenings should be done. The point is they could be conducted in a more PRIVATE and DIGNIFIED fashion.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • mark

      sarah want her meat touched so she can post on facebook

      November 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jay W.

    Well, it's official. CNN is nothing more than a pawn for whomever is in charge in the government. Good God, do you people just make this stuff up on the fly?

    November 23, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mark Kawakami

    OK, I know 1100 comments in, no one is going to read my comment but I cannot let this pass silently:

    "Perhaps, it's just (pun-intended) all up in the air for now."

    Now, that's just the worst writing in the world. First of all, you shouldn't even use "no pun intended", because frankly no one cares. At all. If you didn't intend to write a pun, just go back and rewrite the sentence so the pun is removed. Telling people you are aware of the pun but are too lazy to take any corrective measure of any sort is not something we need to know about.

    But you went one step further. You said "(pun-intended)"... Look, this is important: If the pun is so subtle or so strained or so cringeworthy that you need to point out that it exists in order for people to notice it, then you just shouldn't have it in there at all. Again, this is an issue of no one caring but the writer.

    And don't go trying to say "I was trying to end humorously." Seriously, stop right there. If you want to end humorously, you need to have a joke. Someone needs to laugh. Trust me, apparently at least 1100 people have read this article and I can guarantee that not one of them so much as chuckled. It's not a joke if it's not funny. It's just bad writing. It's awful writing.

    And as if that's not enough, you chose to hyphenate "(pun-intended)". Why? Why on earth would that be hyphenated? Do you hyphenate "no pun intended"? Of course not. First of all, you don't hyphenate it because, as I mentioned, you shouldn't be using the phrase at all because it's awful writing and theoretically you're a journalist of one sort or another, or at the very least a grown-up of one sort of another. But the other reason you don't hyphenate it is because that's not where the freakin' hyphen goes! And for those same reasons, you also don't hyphenate "(pun intended)".

    So, not only have you produced awful writing, you've somehow managed - in the space of two words, mind you - to do so incorrectly.

    This is a proud day for the ghost of American journalism.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kelly

      I think I love you. This is a fantastic comment.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linda in New York

      Step away, Kelly, he's mine!

      Far more important than this bogus "news" about the anti-government lemmings and their pat-down hysteria is the sorry, sorry state of CNN.

      Years ago CNN was a respected news service, now it's just tabloid garbage, and very poorly done, at that. Program after program is devoid of journalism, with the opinions of various talking heads in its place. Program after program cites opinion polls rather than reporting facts.

      This is The Family Feud - where the "correct" answers to questions were what the studio audiences said - taken too far.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  7. angela

    TSA: Feeling you up so you feel safe...

    November 23, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Barbara

    I wonder how many people that are comment negatively on this are actual flyers? I personally think that anyone flying should be grateful that TSA is doing everything and anything they can to make sure that we are safe while we are flying. I applaud the new measures by TSA because I fly at least 10 times a year and I would rather go through this than to Blow up in mid air or be takin hostage by terrorists and flown into another freaking building. People really need to think about it and what it means for the safety of our country and our lives.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • onedaytwo

      "freaking building" have some respect for those that died in terrorist attacks.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • JB

      I'm a Lieutenant in the US Navy. I have been deplayed to the middle east five times. Weak, scared, dependant people like you disgust me. Stop living your lives in bubble wrap. The rest of us would like to go about our daily lives without the scared cry babies slowing us down. Oh and I do fly quite frequently, you pay for it.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sara

      I fly all the time and I am insulted by these machines and the pat downs. Because I fly all the time (and have over 30 years of flying "experience" with one airline, it should be pretty damn obvious that I'm not going to blow up a plane. It's time to have some common sense about this and not treat all flyers like we are terrorists when obviously the majority of us are not. There will still be ways of getting bombs on planes- the TSA and government is always attacking the "last" trick that worked but it doesn't take into consideration the tricks that haven't been tested yet. It's time to trust instincts and watch for the behavior of people who may be problems.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • AnythingForSecurity, Right?

      To be consistent with your comment, when some nutjob smuggles explosives "internally" and the TSA decides that you have a choice between regular x-rays and cavity searches, which will you choose? Regular x-rays at the rate of 10+ a year WILL kill you. Cavity searches will be awfully uncomfortable – especially if they don't change gloves (like they don't change gloves now).

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

      I do have respect for the people that died on 911. Thats why we should be doing everything we can to prevent it from happening again.....

      December 10, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  9. AmyTC

    Overblown, way overblown.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jorge

    There are two planes leaving from your present site to your destination – One is for people who undergo the body scanners and pat downs. The other plane is for all of those who refuse to undergo anything other than the normal walk-through – Which plane will YOU take to your destination? I know which plane that I will be flying... STOP THE STUPIDITY.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Michael Bennett

    Where does it end? It is the american publics duty to question the security practices of our society. How much do we privacy do we give up? Will this lead down the eventual path of tracking everyone at all times? One might say that this is only air travel, but what happens when a subway train is blown up, or a city bus, or an apartment complex, or an entire city block or school. Should we go ahead and start on the slippery slope of giving up all secrecy and privacy to our daily lives just to make sure that the government understands that "you" personally are not a terrorist.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Anne

    Even ONE instance of these horror stories is too many. I don't care if they're in the extreme minority, no one should be subjected to the invasion and embarrassment of being drenched in their own urine or exposing their prosthetic breast to a stranger in crowded airport.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Martean

    As an aiport employee who has gone through the screening, I find that people a making a bigger deal out of this than what it really is. U can go to an x-ray technician at the doctor's office who will know your name, see your face and can have access to your medical history, no one complains. You get arrested by a police offficer who has to pat you down when they arrest you, no one complains. But heaven forbid someone see an outline of your body, doesn't know who you are and are in a completely different area looking at you, and that's a problem?? My how fickle people are.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Justamom

      Not the same thing. Especially the bit about how officers do a pat down when they arrest someone–that someone has usually done something wrong! Since the folks getting patdowns are 99.99% just travelers, perhaps people wouldn't complain if it were someone more professional or somewhere more private.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Tony Oakland, Ca.

    It's overblown. The GOP resists the idea of a unionized security force. The GOP is against workers getting fair wages with union representation. At the expense of securing our nation with needless delays for TSA appointments. The same ole GOP stunts........

    November 23, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. NH

    Personally, I am done with airline travel altogether in this country.

    It's all just too much. Broadband internet has made business travel a relic of the past. And who would put up with any of this nonsense to go on a family vacation? At a certain point, this entire business model is going to breakdown completely and we'll be arguing about whether taxpayers should be bailing out airlines.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      I agree completely – I'm just done with commercial air. Will be vacationing via roads this summer, and will spend the extra money to hire a private plane or ride-share in the future. Good night commercial air travel.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
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