Time Magazine Says TSA Groping Not A Problem & It's All Blown Out Of Proportion By The Internet

from the thinking-critically-not-required dept

One of the complaints frequently leveled at the mainstream press is that they don't do much critical thinking. All too often, it feels like they've simply turned into scribes, rather than people who will help everyone in the community better understand things. Case in point: Time Magazine's Alex Altman has published quite an article suggesting that the anthropmorphized "internet" is making too big a deal of the TSA's "naked or a grope" security procedures. Of course, the internet itself doesn't have "ephemeral obsessions," as Altman implies: people do. Altman could have a point that people are overreacting but let's look at the evidence he uses to support this position. Amusingly, it's actually two pieces of info that we had already discussed and debunked, which Altman and Time Magazine took at face value. First up:
With furor of the full-body scans and invasive pat-downs reaching critical mass, TSA Administrator John Pistole went before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Wednesday morning to explain why the new screening measures are a necessary evil.

Pistole was conciliatory but resolute: If you're going to get on a plane, you're either going to be photographed with advanced imaging technology--the "full-body scans" that render all-too-detailed impressions of travelers' physiques--or endure an uncomfortably thorough pat-down.
We already discussed Pistole's testimony and why he's actually lying. Contrary to what Pistole claims (and Altman bought without checking), the vast majority of people getting on planes in US airports are going through neither full body scans or "an uncomfortably thorough pat-down." Most people are still just going through traditional metal detectors. Even in the airports that have the backscatter naked image scanners, most passengers still just go through traditional metal detectors. Claiming that all passengers now go through either the backscatter scans or get a thorough pat-down is a lie.
While you'd never guess it from the hysterical media coverage, most people are...pretty OK with that. The breathless headlines and expert discussion forums provide a distorted picture of public perception. According to a CBS News poll, 81% of Americans approve of the decision to use full-body X-ray machines to weed out terrorist threats. Sometimes the screams of an aggrieved minority drowns out the rest of the public, and this may be one of those cases.
Except, again, this isn't quite accurate. As we discussed in our post about the poll, if you go and look at what the poll actually asked it phrased the question in a way that leaves out all of the concerns people have about the scanners and only implies that the scanners help security. That's obviously not a fair poll and the results should be discounted accordingly. Does Altman bother to check on all of this? Of course not.

Altman may be right that people are overreacting but he didn't help by simply repeating the claims of Pistole and a weak poll, when both have already been proven to be misleading at best and downright false at worst. Perhaps instead of rushing to mock "the internet" and its mythical "ephemeral obsessions," Altman could have taken some time to actually research the issue and to inform people of the details rather than just repeating the misleading claims from the TSA. That's the kind of thing that would actually build up trust in the press, rather than disdain for the press.

Filed Under: alex altman, backscatter, journalism, privacy, scanners, security, time magazine, tsa

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  1. icon
    Benny6Toes (profile), 19 Nov 2010 @ 6:02am

    MSNBC has a few other polls...

    MSNBC has a few read polls that would show otherwise. Granted, they're reader polls, so they're not all that scientific, but when they've got 20,000+ respondents, you'd probably think that they might show a slight indication of preferences. For instance: What do you think about "opt out" day? 69% of 25,589 respondents support it because the TSA needs to hear an angry public's concerns. http://travel.newsvine.com/_question/2010/11/18/5488278-what-do-you-think-about-opt-out-d ay Do you support TSA's enhanced security procedures? 80% of 5,987 respondents said, "no," because they believe they are a burden and safety risk to Americans and ineffectual for catching terrorists. And here are a few ideas for having fun with it: 1) Bring along copies of the US Constitution, or at least the 4th Amendment, and hand them to the TSA agents should you be selected to go through the body scanners and/or be molested. Pass some out to your fellow travelers too. 2) tape a copy of the 4th Amendment to the from of the body scan machine (not sure of the legality, but it will probably annoy them regardless). 3)Request a pat down from a member of the opposite sex. Tell them you were hoping for a cute screener. 4) Right when they're about to start the pat down ask if it would be easier for you to just take your shirt off and drop trou. Then start taking your shirt off as they answer.

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