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. APatriot1

    9/11 is a fading public memory after nearly a decade. There is widespread complacence, and many kids then didn't realize the significance and as young adults, don't see the need for the inconvenience. Unfortunately, the fact there have been no similar attacks isn't because of our great Homeland Security and TSA, it's because the first attacks were so spectacularly successful, why diminish it with something less that may fail anyway? Having slewn Goliath, I doubt David saw much point bringing on all takers. The real challenges to TSA should be on the grounds that it's ineffective, and the medical risk of scanners is potentially more hazardous to more people than the terror risk. If and only if either is true should TSA be eliminated or measures drastically scaled back.

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

    This article does not hit the head it hits the tail.
    First of all the survey can not be fact as it asked only 1k people and doessnt state if they are even frequent fliers or not.
    Second of all the reason that I am angry and I'm sure a lot more people are too is that the x-ray machines have not been independently researched .
    Just like you said ct scan Is safe years ago and now your claiming that it over radiates us I don't trust a word you say.
    I fly atleast once a month and I'm not putting my life in biased researchers hands who were funded by TSA.
    Don't want to hear all the big shots next year when the commercial of a local lawyers office puts an ad on tv for people harmed by radiation of the back scatters.
    Israel is a country a lot more prone to attacks they have no back scatters and they don't require shoes and belts taken off.
    So why are we so paranoid?
    Btw ad me to your research I'm not flying if not absolutely needed to.

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

    X-Rays cause damage to your cells and DNA at the molecular level. You are an idiot to believe the claims that they are safe.

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

    watch this

    November 23, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ff1

    It’s easy – on well travelled routes (NY LA, NY London) offer a few no security flights – just get on. See how many people take them up. I know the practicalities of separate gates etc preclude this but it focuses the mind.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. rob j

    This reminds me of this... and it only happened a year ago...

    November 23, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. XRayGuy

    Things the government has said was safe:

    Agent Orange
    Gulf War Vacines
    And on and on.....

    But these airport X-Rays macines are safe.....I've heard that one before.

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

      20 times higher..

      November 23, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  8. 1984

    I read 1984... looks like its coming of age now

    November 23, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Emily Smith

    TSA Prayer

    I pray that the radiation that surrounds me now not harm me, but instead be directed by Gabriel of Air, beamed to the men who put me here. I pray that Michael use it to roast their organs in Fire, making cancer cells for Raphael to float through the Waters of their blood, invading their bodies, so that they are consumed in agony, and nourish Uriel's Earth.
    I fuel this prayer with all my anger/sorrow/pain.

    In the name of decency
    So Mote it Be!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. KattTCC

    Hello CNN!!! This is NOT front page news! It seems to me that the media is yet AGAIN trying to cause strife in the US!!!! Try to be a proper journalist and get on to the REAL stories. It doens't matter if you keep covering it like an annoying dog & his ball. They aren't going to change things. CNN you have way too big of an ego to think by blasting this stupid story every minute that you will make a difference. IF they do happen to stop feeling people up due to your constant coverage then I will know who to BLAME if something bad happens.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Scott

    Maybe the majority of America is starting to feel how anyone who looked "Muslim" or "ethnic" felt after 9/11. I love all the outrage now, but when enhanced screenings weren't happening to us, no one was outraged.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. 1984

    once it starts it will not stop... next it will be some other public place...

    November 23, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • bill

      you are right, what terrorist in their right mind would go near an airport right now?
      that is the problem with the gov ,they are concintrating on one area and we are going to be blind sided because homeland security has their blinders on

      November 23, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Ward

      This is what is so frustrating. The flying is a priviledge argument will lead directly to this. Now the government can simply deny you every single "priviledge" until you "willingly" give up all of your rights.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Christy

    I appreciate the need for security and while I'm uncomfortable with the scanners, I'll likely choose them. However, the one thing that none of the articles mention is the fact that those in wheelchairs have no choice but to have the pat down. My husband is in a wheelchair, and he has to go through the wand/pat-down search each time he gets on a plane. The pat-down process with the back of the hand is already very comprehensive. I've seen them do it and I cannot imagine what could possibly be hidden that the existing pat-down wouldn't have found. The TSA talks about the fact that people can opt for the scanner and that the pat down is a choice. It's not a choice for everyone, and I think that these articles should at least acknowledge the significant minority of the population who will have no choice but to endure the more rigorous patdowns. While this is not the case with my husband, add to that someone with significant mental challenges and layer that with some TSA agents' intolerance for someone who is challenged.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. dddddddddddddd

    do people not understand what radiation is? this dumbfounds me. when you go to the dentist or doctor and they give you an x-ray, they cover other parts of your body with LEAD to keep the radiation from penetrating and causing cancer! but here you have full body radiation being blasted through your entire body and people are all for it in the name of security. it's the most idiotic thing i've ever heard of. then if you don't want cancer you can get groped by a stranger. what a compromise.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tuffy

      Ask every TSA employee you see near a backscatter machine why they are not allowed to wear radiation tags or protective gear.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jack

    The terrorists have won. They have completely disrupted our way of life.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • dddddddddddddd

      people should really be asking who is PROFITING from this? It's not about security it's about dollar signs. these machines cost a fortune and if you follow the bread crumbs you'll see what this is all about. I hope everyone continues to refuse going through these cancer machines, not just because it's a gross invasion of privacy but to put this company and Chernoff out of business.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
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