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, 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? 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,"'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 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. HarmNone

    Article is propagating outdated, invalid polls and surveys. And the opt out day is tomorrow, why are they looking for anything before then??

    For anyone who needs more proof that this is a sham:
    the actual audio of the experience:

    November 23, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • bob

      So he is being searched, scanned, etc. not to board a plane but to enter the country? Now that is simply illegal since he has a valid passport and had already cleared customs.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • HarmNone

      Point is they basically admit it's illegal by letting him through the process. According to TSA constant position, they could have been letting a subversive into the country do damage in another area. So the whole thing is ineffective.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zenomorph

      Well, this speaks for itself. What a selfish uncooperative idiot. It's all, "me, Me, ME!" All these kind of people talk about are "their rights" with no regard for THEIR RESPONSIBILITY. The two are inseparable.

      So, we keep hearing about what you refuse to do. How about we start hearing about what you SHOULD do?!? What is your responsibility?

      November 23, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. DinaK

    CNN never did this thorough of a fluff piece on the Patriot Act and the provisions that helped us intercept enemy communications entering and exiting the country. CNN only distorted the so-called intrusion of the Patriot Act. But, when every single U.S. citizen who flies is affected, CNN is happy to defend the gov't.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. HarmNone

    Okay, that's pretty cool that the actual vid shows up, don't know how I did that!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ficheye

    What a bunch of whiners. Now your next trip to Cancun is going to be ruined. The comments here portray a nation of gibbering idiots, many of who voted for George Bush... twice. Now it all comes home to you and you don't like it. You get what you pay for and, in this case, you paid for airline security. Here it is. Embrace it. Vote for Palin in 2012. THAT will make things better, right? It would turn us into a nation of paranoid pseudo religious warmongers. We know what comes next. Push the button, Momma grizzly! Push the button! Those other countries are so mean to us! National Waahmbulance.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • troll

      When I can go a day without someone mentioning W in EVERY story it will be a good day. Yes, W voters are the only one complaining. W is also the reason why Kanye jacked the mic and why Jackson is dead. Oh yeah, and he also traded Ruth to the Yankees.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. danie

    this is bogus! the scanners CANNOT detect explosives. they can only detect masses and shapes. sora song from should check the facts.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. lordpet

    Don't fly if you don't like security checks at airports, especially those that were developed in response to an attack. It is funny though, watching the "outrage". Obviously, the people screaming the loudest about the infringement on non-existent rights (there is no right to fly and it is perfectly reasonable to search people for munitions) would be the first to scream at the government for not doing more to protect them if a bunch of planes fell out of the sky.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kevin

    I don't care what you have to do! If i prevents one of these nuts from getting on a plane and turning my trip into a nightmare so be it. God forbid something happen to one of our planes then you will hear the same whiny j/o's complaining about why didn't we do enough.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • ImWithDouchy

      No, I expect it will be you complaining, because you seem to like to point fingers in an unproductive way.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zenomorph

      Kevin, you are correct. All I see from the 20% who object are statements about what they will not do, nothing constructive, nothing that demonstrates any level of responsibility. Just a bunch of spoiled brats whining and complaining.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. XRayGuy

    A blast of X-Rays is completely safe. That's what the government says and they are never wrong and never have an agenda.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tuffy


      November 23, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Fallout

    when you're blown out of a ruptured fuselage at 36,000 feet, and the 500mph winds rip your clothes off and start on your skin, and the minus 60 degrees Celsius temperature hits you and you begin to suffocate, maybe you'll say "Gee, maybe those pat-downs weren't such a bad idea."

    November 23, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Osama bin Hidin

    ar har har har hee hee ضظ ڬڭ ڮئؤ؟

    November 23, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Iraqvet

    ChestRockwell who are all these rapist and murders that military recruits

    November 23, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  12. CancerIsBadMMMkay

    I don't know... What's a more painful death: explosion in mid-air or wasting away from some form of cancer due to X-ray exposure? Depends on the cancer I guess. I'd like to see the real numbers on the risks. Too bad there's not some sort of organization that as people who are paid to do research on facts and report them to people - that would be really useful in a situation like this.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. abe

    Most polls put the approval/disapproval right around 50/50. People don't like to be put through X-Ray radiation and subject to groping.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Wally zebco

    Why all of a sudden do we need this?
    Did someone pay congress to pass this and then supply them with the scanners at a HUGE profit?
    I'm sure government doesn't work that way.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Breanna

    The comments here portray a nation of gibbering idiots, many of who voted for George Bush... twice. Now it all comes home to you and you don't like it.

    And for those of us not stupid enough to bother voting at all since it's all a stage/puppet act but have no way of getting out of the country because it's too expensive? Please, if you'd like me to leave, I gleefully await the gas and passport money. 🙂

    November 23, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
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