Compelling journalism connects dots, telling a story by revealing a bigger picture. But what happens when you connect the wrong dots?
For example, here are two facts that should be connected only with great care and perspective: The latest Transportation Department numbers, which show domestic airlines carried 58.1 million passengers in November, up 6.1 percent from a year ago, and the introduction of the TSA’s unpopular scans and pat-downs, which prompted many air travelers to say they would stop flying.
Put them together and you get headlines like, Despite new security measures, airline travel soars.
During the first month that the Transportation Security Administration launched a more aggressive pat-down search technique, the nation’s airlines saw the highest increase in passenger traffic in more than three years.
That may be completely true, but as anyone who travels knows, there’s a little more to the story.
Analyzing TSA policy impact on pre-planned travel
First, most flights are purchased weeks ahead because of the airline industry’s strict advance-purchase requirements for reasonably-priced fares. Chances are, a significant majority of the folks flying in November made their plans before the TSA’s actions and were locked into their holiday travel plans.
Second, the economy is slowly emerging from a recession, so more people are traveling. A far better measure might have been last-minute flight cancellations, but those numbers aren’t reported to the DOT. In this article travelers prefer to travel by road.
Connecting passenger enplanements with TSA policy without the benefit of this additional perspective tells an incomplete story. Passengers are as upset as ever about TSA policy. And they gave this particular reporter a piece of their mind in the comments.
“Looks like this writer is in the tank for TSA,” declared one reader. “The Sicko Agency likes to release these tidbits so talentless “journalists” can cut and paste a story without having to do any real reporting.”
Unpacking the concerns surrounding TSA actions
That’s a little over-the-top. I know this reporter, and it’s far more likely that deadlines or a directive from his editors, who may or may not be intimately familiar with the airline industry, had more to do with the post than any political agenda.
So what’s really going on?
Passengers are, in fact, deeply troubled by what they say are the TSA’s unconstitutional actions. One disgruntled passenger, Terri Daniel, is even organizing a boycott of air travelers called “No-Fly Week” July 10 to 16. Here’s the group’s Facebook page.
“If the people of Egypt can overthrow a police state, why do we in America just sit still for ridiculous security practices and numerous other insults?” says Daniel.
Meanwhile, the government seems to be as tone-deaf as ever when it comes to reading the taxpayers who are footing the bill for the new body scanners. On Thursday, TSA Administrator John Pistole told Congress he wanted to broaden airport security to include vehicle checkpoints, small security teams patrolling the grounds and using officers who are trained to detect unusual behavior. (Here’s how to handle the TSA when you travel.)
There’s some evidence that TSA has already started roaming beyond the screening areas and random gate checks. Last Sunday, Linda Morrison experienced what to her was a new security screening procedure in Seattle.
A lady wearing a TSA uniform came into the gate area where I was waiting for a flight and started going through people’s bags randomly. She seemed to be focused on larger carry on bags.
She did not approach me (or I would probably still be in detention) but I overheard her. She gave no explanation, cited no authority, did not give her name.
I truly felt the police state had arrived. The scary part was no one questioned her authority to do what I consider an illegal search. The bags had already been passed through security. Are they that insecure with their primary security procedures?
Apparently they are. It’s unclear if the TSA is authorized to make this kind of random search as passengers board. Under Public Law 107–71 (PDF), the legislation that created the TSA, it is allowed to screen passengers before boarding, but probably leaves open the possibility for such a search, however police-state-like it may be.
How long before TSA visits us at home to ask us a few questions about our upcoming flight?