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TSA Screenings: Real Threat or Media Hype?

November 22, 2010

TSA Airport ScannerNew technology like iPhones and Flip camcorders have enabled everyday Americans to take on new watchdog roles in airports across the country. In recent days, we’ve seen videos of intrusive searches, pictures of pat-downs and reports from outraged air passengers splashed across out television screens and our favorite websites. But are these incidents really as widespread as they seem?

“Very few people actually get the pat-down at all,” TSA Administrator John Pistole told Howard Kurtz at the Daily Beast. “I don’t know what the impression is” from all the media scrutiny, he says, “but it’s a very, very small number.”

According to the TSA, the only people who are subjected to pat-downs are those who opt out of the new full-body scanners or set of magnetometer alarms.  In addition, these “scatterback” imaging machines are currently in use at just 70 of the country’s 453 airports.

So how did reports of widespread incidents get top billing in newspapers across the country today and dominate Monday’s morning news coverage?

Columnist Matt Lewis blames Drudge while Kurtz claims some TSA agents are “clowns” and that some air travelers are being “oversensitive.” Some people are even using the country’s sensitivity on the subject to promote themselves or even commercial products.

Instead of covering these issues to instill some kind of dread into the minds of holiday travelers, perhaps this story is getting more attention than any other because it’s one that could affect us all and is a realization of how the line separating collective security and individual liberty may be blurring.

“No self-respecting man wants a hyperactive security guard touching his junk. But I’ve about had it with media types who insist on turning this into a junk story,” Kurtz writes in condemnation of the media’s wall-to-wall coverage.

You decide: Are media reports overblown or are the TSA’s new screening procedures cause for concern?

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