Newsham: Ease up on the pat-downs

Critics from across the political spectrum have recently turned their ire against the Transportation Security Administration. Its use of full body scanners (labeled by its detractors a cancer-causing “porno-scanner”) and enhanced pat-downs (“gropings”) has been panned by commentators of all political stripes. A headline on the conservative website shouts, “TSA Agent Molests Three-Year-Old,” while decrying pat-downs as “TSA prostate exams.” The liberal-leaning site Wonkette has posted a logo featuring the Internet meme Pedobear that rebrands the TSA a division of the “U.S. Department of Molestation.” The rallying cry of the day is “don’t touch my junk!”


This is the rallying cry that columnist Charles Krauthammer has declared, without a hint of irony, “the anthem of the modern man.” Going on to smear the TSA’s new search procedures as the latest tyranny of “big bro’,” Krauthammer hails the actions of John Tyner, the southern California libertarian who threatened to have the Transportation Security officer charged with patting him down arrested. When told that a pat-down didn’t constitute sexual assault, Tyner raised his voice and asserted to the officer that “it would be if you weren’t the government.”

But Tyner, Krauthammer and other pundits fail to make an important distinction, and in doing so, do more harm than good to advance the political dialogue. In their eyes, a TSO is simply “the government,” or, as Krauthammer wrote, an “airport security goon,” a faceless thug roughing travelers up as he sees fit. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that a given TSO is just some guy doing his job.

“Molester, pervert, disgusting, an embarrassment, creep. These are all words I have heard today at work describing me,” reported one TSO to Steven Frischling, a blogger with connections to the airline industry. One TSO who identifies as Jewish reports being called a Nazi, and a veteran of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan speaks of being worn down by passengers addressing him with “hateful comments.” Another put his position more brusquely: “I am a professional doing my job, whether I agree with this current policy or not. I do not want to be here all day touching penises.”

The American punditry and public seem to have forgotten that, as one TSO put it, “It is not up to me to decide policy.” It’s perfectly acceptable to disagree with the terrible result of a governmental office’s bureaucracy, and anyone who feels wronged should take the time to file a complaint with the TSA and contact their representatives to support legislative action to end the security theater. It is in the public interest to address such blatant violations of our privacy by filing a lawsuit, as the Electronic Privacy Information Center did, alleging violations of several laws and the Fourth Amendment and seeking to have the scanners removed, and it would be perfectly acceptable for any citizen who has had their rights violated to join them.

It’s ignorant and uncalled for, however, to suggest that that same product of bureaucracy is Barack Obama’s doing or to accuse TSOs of being sexual assailants and child molesters. It solves nothing to call for Americans to “opt out” of the scans, a move that would have delayed thousands of Thanksgiving travelers and perhaps even caused people to miss their flights. It makes no sense to demonize people doing their jobs and to make their lives difficult out of spite for the policies they have to uphold.

If we’re serious about not being treated like prisoners every time we get on an airplane and stopping the inefficient and perhaps illegal security measures that have yet to show any positive results, let’s take the high road. If we want to be heard in a meaningful way, we have to start by being civil.

Jack Newsham is a freshman in Morse College.


  • The Anti-Yale

    You want to get on 50,000 tons of metal and plastic hurling through the air 10,000 feet above the ocean at 800 miles an hour (guesstimates) and be blow to smithereens because you are offended by being “touched” in personal areas of your body?

    How narcissistic.


  • River Tam

    Paul Keane apologizes for authoritarian police power. I never thought I’d see the day.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Better Spread than Dead.

  • River Tam

    So much for “Give me Liberty or Give me Death”.

    Or “Those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither”.

  • The Anti-Yale

    If you are so concerned about “liberty”, repeal the income tax.

  • Standards

    PK again with false dichotomies!

    How about:

    You’re so concerned with up-keeping an illusion of security through a reactionary and ineffective screening system that you’re willing to give up your Fourth Ammendment rights?

    How simple minded.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Illusions? If a female security guard had “touched [the] junk” of the Lockerbie bomber 22 years ago, untold number of lives may have been saved.

  • Standards

    Oh PK, that’s grand.

    The current TSA policies wouldn’t have caught the “underpants” bomber; they’ve admitted as much. Yet they had all the necessary intelligence they needed: the man’s father himself was trying to warn them yet nothing happened.

    These policies do not exist to make us any safer.

    And they won’t. They really won’t. Let’s follow your line of reasoning. Say they had caught the Lockerbie bomber through a genital pat down (ignoring the fact that you can now smuggle explosives in your rectum. I don’t suppose you’ll be claiming that if people just manned up and took a regular cavity search we could save lives as well?) then so what?

    Don’t fool yourself for a second by thinking that if someone’s bent on blowing people up then they won’t go somewhere where they can. Why not a mall? Or the metro? Maybe a movie theater? Or in the bloated TSA lines at the airport? Do you suggest we touch everyone’s junk everywhere? Because of course, in the immortal words of PK, would we really want to sacrifice those lives just so that we, in our narcissism, can avoid having our junk touched?

    You are honestly the worst kind of political coward. You’ll let your government treat you as a criminal, forcing you to be guilty until proven innocent in the form of invasive and unconstitutional searches, all to fight a manufactured threat that you’re helping to perpetuate.

    This is not about safety. The chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee is a lobbyist for the company that makes the scanners. That were paid for by stimulus money.

    The fact that you find this defensible for, what is again, an illusion of security, is pathetic.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “You are honestly the worst kind of political coward.”

    I will not talk with anyone who directly calls me names regardless of the merits of the argument.

    It is the SECOND time you have stooped to this level.

    I suggest you review your mother’s upbringing.

    It is poor manners.

    “Why not a mall? Or the metro? Maybe a movie theater? Or in the bloated TSA lines at the airport?”

    None of these is 5000 feet in the air and inescapable by definition.

  • SY10

    Paul Keane, at least try to get your basic facts right. The Lockerbie bomb was in the cargo hold – touching people’s junk wouldn’t have accomplished a thing to stop it. You have to be really shameless or truly clueless to allege that your opponents are against policies that would have saved over 200 lives when your claim is so obviously false.

    P.S. Why does it matter that a plane is inescapable? If a bomb blows up next to you, killing you, it isn’t much consolation that you might have survived had you known there was a bomb about to blow and run away.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “allege that your opponents are against policies that would have saved over 200 lives when your claim is so obviously false.”

    I allege no such thing.

    As to my anachronistic analogy, change “Lockerbie” to “Christmas Day” bomber. My point obtains.

  • SY10

    You said “If a female security guard had “touched [the] junk” of the Lockerbie bomber 22 years ago, untold number of lives may have been saved.” How is that not alleging that those who oppose current TSA procedures are in opposition to a policy that would have saved over 200 lives? And, as you now seem to admit, it’s an allegation that is clearly false

    As for your new analogy, no one died in the Christmas Day (failed) bombing. But, that’s not really what’s important, because the same sort of analogy could justify anything. If we “touched the junk” of every student as they arrived at school, we could have avoided countless deadly school shootings. If we “touched the junk” of everyone as they entered restaurants, many Israelis, Brits, Indians and others who died in restaurant bombings might still be alive. Unless you want to live in a police state, I doubt you would agree to policies of that sort. And, as I’ve already pointed out, that planes are inescapable is completely irrelevant to anything.

  • pablum

    >As to my anachronistic analogy, change “Lockerbie” to “Christmas Day” bomber. My point obtains.

    And as Christopher Hitchens recently noted:

    >Late last August, the Saudi Arabian deputy minister of the interior, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, was injured in the city of Jeddah by a suicide bomber named Abdullah Hassan Al Aseery. The deceased assailant was the brother of Khalid Ibrahim Al Aseery, the suspected bomb-specialist of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the man sought in connection with the underpants and toner attempts. In the Jeddah case, the lethal charge of PETN was concealed in the would-be assassin’s rectum.

    >Perhaps you can begin to see where, as they say, I am going with this. In order for us to take them even remotely seriously, our Homeland Security officials should by now have had no alternative but to announce a series of random body-cavity searches some months ago.

    Mr. Keane, would you surrender your anus to national security?

  • River Tam

    > If you are so concerned about “liberty”, repeal the income tax.

    I would love to.

  • Standards

    Oh man, poor manners. Last I checked the strength of an argument isn’t at all related to how politely it is phrased. And I’m sure my mother would support rightful chastising, especially in the case of political cowardice in the form of TSA apologetics.

    And I love that you may dodge my points because you are oh-too-righteous to debate someone who might stoop so low as to be rude. It seems you have no answer to my peers’ reiteration of those points.

    The underpants bomber was caught by citizens on a plane, and Israel’s airports, the safest and with the best security, do not do mandatory pat downs or screenings, then why do these practices exist?

    If you choose to maintain this slippery slope, I assure you the fact that an airplane is a contained space (as if that matters at all), does not prevent the logical conclusion of your argument: touch everyone’s junk everywhere because god knows what US citizens might be up to; let’s assume they’re guilty for all of our safety.

  • The Anti-Yale

    The strength of an argument is undermined by personal attacks rather than attacks on ideas. Two strikes and you’re out in my book. I’m not a glutton for punishment.

    As for pablum’s astonishing “a” question:

    I have already surrendered it to modern medicine’s obsessive search for polyps-preparing-to-become-cancer.

    PS: I thought bomb sniffing dogs could do that work and be minimally invasive.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “And, as I’ve already pointed out, that planes are inescapable is completely irrelevant to anything”

    Maybe in your solipsistic universe but not in mine. It is decidedly NOT irrelevant to ME. I want a modicum of control over my exit from the world, preferably in one piece rather than 500 pieces.

    My solution? I resolved after the Hudson River Boeign 747 landing, never to fly on a plane again.


    Leopold Stokowski, who conducted orchestras all over the world until he was 95-years-old, refused to fly on airplanes . Period.

  • Standards

    You make it sound as if my posts were simply anti-pk diatribes. Hardly. I had some insults I qualified after addressing your points.

    and in response to your answer to pab and my question: would you seriously advocate cavity searches at airports as well, because bombs (and components for bombs, which would make dog sniffers useless, and also why you can’t carry in more than an arbitrary amount of ounces in liquid) inside the body can make it past scanners?

    And are you honestly laughing aside the idea of random cavity searches because you are smart enough to get checks for colon cancer? Seriously?

    And I don’t think you’ll have much more choice being caught in an explosion at a mall than you would in a plane. Admit it all you want, but don’t pretend it’s not irrational. No matter how many old composers you can find who agree.

  • River Tam

    > Leopold Stokowski, who conducted orchestras all over the world until he was 95-years-old, refused to fly on airplanes . Period.

    Doesn’t make it not absurd. Salvador Dali owned a pet anteater.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Lord Bertrand Russell author of Principia Mathematica, and who lived to a brilliant, healthy 98 years of age, had all his food ground in a blender for the last 10 years of his life because he elected not to have surgery for a kinked colon. I elect not to travel by air because I want reasonable control over my carcass as it edges toward extinction.

    My choice.

    Your absurdity.

    Ain’t freedom grand!

  • Standards

    Says the individual advocating mandatory, warrant-less searches in clear violation of the fourth amendment for a false sense of security!

    Ain’t irony grand!

  • The Anti-Yale
  • jnewsham

    …sexual assault?