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. bush 012

    MMM FEEL MY BIG JUNK LUV IT

    November 23, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  2. diego2

    Give everyone a choice of two planes-one will board with only those passengers AND crew that have been scanned or patted down-the other will insure no one will need to go through a scan, pat down or anything-just show up and board. Which one takes off first?
    the pilots certainly contributed to this blown up story with purpported refusals to be subjected to searchs.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bill

    Glad CNN had the guts to admit the media's role in this. Blown way out of proportion. Only lemmings actually believe that some poor TSA slob is looking to grab your breasts or check your innocuous, computer-generated figure on a fuzzy screen. Get over yourself. You are probably fat and ugly anyway, so nobody is checking you out. No pedophile is working the TSA line, waiting for your kids. There are, however, people traveling with explosives in their shoes, underwear, and places you are actually worried about the TSA touching, so get over it. I have flown seven times this month. Have had the scan and the pat-down when more convenient (read: some crazy holding up the scan line, moaning about their rights being violated). All were professional and far from obtrusive. You have no right to deny security, and you have no right to be fat and ugly.

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

    I’m really surprised of the lack of thinking here.
    The real problem for me is not being exposed without clothes to those security agents or the “pat down”. There’s more to be concerned about… What’s next???
    We already know that these little machines are not detecting items placed inside the body. So, what will be the next step when someone will try to detonate a bomb they had inside their rectum??
    I just cannot imagine.
    What about radiation for frequent travelers, young kids, pilots? Please educate yourself about the exposition of such radiation if you travel quite a bit.
    Also, why airplanes are more risky than trains or other form of transportation? You can make a lot of damage inside a cruise ship.
    It’s getting very very ridiculous. And you folks think it’s a good idea??
    Wake up people!

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

      We need to start screening people better on trains and ships.

      November 23, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jim

    I love you, TSA. Keep up the good work!

    November 23, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. kjgmsg

    I don't speak for anyone else; I speak for myself. But I will say that I am NOT pleased with the TSA's new procedures. For me, it has nothing to do with media hype. It has to do with getting groped at an airport.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mark

    I didn't realize that with a scan or pat down you were guaranteed to reach your destination. We all will die at some time. If you're worried about flying, you'd better be concerned the next time you go to a football game or a concert. Heavens to betsy you better demand that everyone be searched. When Las Vegas feels the need to follow protocol from the TSA, I take it seriously. Security at our airports is a joke.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Trey

    Yeah, the TSA is really doing everything in their power to keep us "safe". Oh yeah, they really pick the winners out there, not to mention that a TSA worker just abducted a woman in Atlanta. Yeah, real winners that know how to keep us safe.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. John

    The only people who are making all the noise about these pat-downs is CNN. They're making up their own stories to write about. Come on CNN. Try a little harder.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ricardo

    what's really lame in all of this is TSA focusing on people who are obviously not threats... last time I checked, a 90 year old woman from Ohio was not part of Al Queda. Do what other countries do and have the security experts observing/interviewing oat check in. And leave the 6 year old boy alone... and you probably wouldn't need all these night watchman types patting people's butts down in long lines. Why can't the US seem to learn from other countries best-practices? I think TSA can learn a bit from how the Israelis do it.. and if that's racial profiling, so be it. No brainer.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  11. CRBean

    I think if it were known that TSA employees were paid well, professional and were trained properly, we'd have more faith in this new security measure. But since we've all experienced a TSA employee one way or another at the airport, no one wants to be touched (or seen) by them any more than we need to.

    QUESTION – I noticed the airports that I've visited, who provide the X-Ray Scanners, don't have a line for each gender. Why would a woman pat me down, but they don't have the same consideration for the outline of my body??

    November 23, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. chuckmartel

    We have the religion of peace to thank for this.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Acroyear

      No, you have American's fear of them to thank for it. Stop acting like every plane is seconds away from going up in a fireball and the "Religion of Fear" will lose its power.

      November 23, 2010 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Tina

    I have been body scanned and patted down in front of a crowd....I am a 42 year old woman and I had no problem with either procedure. I believe in SAFE!

    November 23, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Acroyear

      Then you believe in a fairy tale. You are letting Osama and his ilk win because you are living in terror of them...THAT is what they wanted, THAT is what you are giving them. Did the procedures before these allow them to blow up plane after plane after plane? NO! I'm sorry to tell you Tina, you will NEVER be totally safe anywhere. Eventually either you will totally give up your freedoms for a false safety or you're just going to have to live with the risks...like every human since time began.

      I hardly think that things are Nazi Germany...but it IS with little steps, "for your own protection" that places like that get started.

      November 23, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  14. harry

    How many terrorist were white old men or women? Thats all I see getting the pat down on the news.

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

    Why not have 1 plane for those people who complain and don't want the pant downs and the other plane for those of us that want to arrive safely and know that the pant downs are necessary. Just saying.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • pixelbreath

      I love you Maggie

      November 23, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
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