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. Paria

    Whatever changes there are for protection we,will always complain no matter what.It't okaaaaay Mr.T.S.A. you can touch it[it's name is da commander] lol.See ya!!!

    November 23, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sam

    Strange. I wish everyone would get Bob Dylan's song- With God Our Side. History repeats itself. I would not want to treated like I commited a crime if I didn't do anything wrong.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. bogus

    All these protests sound very much like the town hall healthcare screaming sessions and every other overblown aspect of Tea party protest...I wonder who these people really are. Liberals? Conservocrats or The Rent is too Damn High Party?

    My feeling is if you do not want added security, don't complain when a terrorist takes your granny's plane down. This is the world we live in, and no matter how much reality tv we try to numb ourselves with, reality don't change because you think your so hot that a TSA guard is checking out your assets. Puhleeez

    November 23, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. jonathan Brax

    If you want to detour the crazies then get the hell out of there country

    November 23, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bob

    Let’s thank the religious nut jobs of the world that can't accept responsibilities for their own failures or that of their countrymen inability to share the wealth and rule without corruption, for this unneeded security checks to travel. Thank you Middle East, God Bless you for your "nutness"

    November 23, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. fahrenheit 451

    Most people are content with the TSA and the way things are. The people who are not content are mostly confused conservatives who think the government should step aside and let private security companies compete (and risk our lives literally). We have seen how well corporations have run our health care.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Average American

    A terrorist has 98% chance of NEVER getting detected with the new system. All they have to do is board in an airport that doesn't have a scanner. The only way for the government to stop this is for a devout muslim woman to complain about being searched or scanned.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • RDU

      yet another example of the uninformed trying to sound knowledgeable.....

      November 23, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jeff James

    What a crazy question: get blown up or support DHS? That's not the real question. The question is whether or not there's a better way to do this. I, for one, don't buy the idea that we can't fin a better way to focus our efforts. More than 99% of the people that fly have no intention of causing harm...yet we spend billions of our dollars treating them all like terrorists. Let's get smart about security.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JS

    When our Congressmen have to pass through the body scans and pat downs, then we might see some response to this outrage. How many terrorists have we apprehended this week?

    November 23, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. RDU

    This is about what I expected. Just like all the teabaggers that were spouting off prior to the election "We are taking back our country!!" Yeah? How's that workin out for ya now? It is usually just the few extremists that yell the loudest but carry no weight in the end. The local news did a story here from the airport and over 90% of the people they asked said they preferred the scanners, they said they did feel safer knowing that something more was being done to make air travel safer specifically during the holidays. Yet again another example of just a few nutjobs blowing things out of proportion.....

    November 23, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. V

    first of all, the government exists to defend liberties. plain and simple. they should NEVER be allowed to take our rights away.

    second, these machines would not have stopped the underwear bomber because the images are made of solid materials (i.e.e bone, hard containers and weapons). what WOULD have stopped the underwear bomber would have been listening to his father when he reported his son as radicalized. instead we put him on a list of 500,000 people and did nothing.

    third, the israelis have a MUCH larger threat of terrorism at their airports and they have ways of doing a better job with less invasive techniques. we should learn from them.

    rights should NEVER go away.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jon King

      You made some points but wrong about Israel. They have ONE international airport to guard, we have hundreds.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jon King

    Some law enforcement people can carry guns on planes...because they passed a background check. So why no have a TSA background check for US citizens and issue a cleared to board card good for all flights?? Common sense, if grandma has been a US citizen for 65 years, has no record, she should be issued a license to fly with no scanning or patting.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. DavidMichael

    Fear of the airplane getting blown up is irrational. No plane has ever blown up originating in the U.S. The methods used 2 months ago worked just fine.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  14. dan

    Its media hype.. lets take the top three Horror stories and spread them all over the News nationaly and locally and get everyone all jazzed up over it. Heres the truth, I would rather walk thru the full body scanner than have a pat down, and if you walk thru the body scanner there is no pat down, unless you still set off the alarm, The VAST majority of people are not ever going to get the full pat down, and the body scanner is not a NAKED picture of you, its a friggin x-ray if you are that worried that someone may see a naked X-ray pic of you , then stay the EFF home. This is the world we are living in now people, lets be safe and not stupid. as for the morons who want to slow down air travel for thanksgiving, you are only hurting yourselves and your families who are waiting for you to get to dinner. so because some of you want to opt out of the scanner and slow down the process you want to ruin other peoples holiday because of your selfishness.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. truthinrock

    I wonder how long before our govt blows up a plane to shut these idiots up. A few hundred in collateral damage to get air travel where it needs to be is acceptable.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
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