Why body-scanner fury is unhinging America: 5 theories

The TSA is taking heat for intimate pat-downs and scanning machines that can see through your clothes. Why is the firestorm erupting now?

Some passengers who submit to the full-body scanners may be subject to a pat-down as well if the machine detects something suspicious.
(Image credit: Corbis)

Airline passengers have been complaining loudly about the Transportation Security Administration's new airport security measures, from aggressive pat-downs to full-body scanning machines that can see through clothes. Those complaints have also sparked a fullblown media frenzy ahead of next week's Thanksgiving holiday, when millions of Americans will be flying to visit family and friends. What's fueling the firestorm? (Watch Ron Paul compare flyers to livestock)

The internet needs something to debate

This drama might have been "tailor-made for the internet's ephemeral obsessions," says Alex Altman at Time. Take "splashy protests," add "children prodded to tears," and "federal employees apparently frisking nuns," and you end up with "an irresistible recipe" for the blogosphere.

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The Drudge Report is particularly obsessed with it

"I blame Drudge!" says R. Emmett Tyrell, Jr. at The American Spectator. Matt Drudge's website has been stirring up this "insane controversy" for weeks now. No matter that a CBS poll found that "fully 81 percent of Americans" approve of the body-scanners. With the help of "Facebook and social networking," Drudge and his band of "soi-disant" libertarian "troublemakers" have engineered the whole thing.

Influential people with money are affected

The outcry has been more prevalent in the media than in the country as a whole, says Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, perhaps because the "effects are felt most manifestly among those relatively few Americans who have the means to travel (and the wherewithal to write about it)."

This is about partisan politics

Yes, the Drudge Report gave this the "blaring-siren treatment," says Dave Weigel at Slate. But only because he and his fellow conservatives bristle at the idea that they need the government's protection. In the wake of 9/11, under George W. Bush, they had to keep quiet about Homeland Security, but as soon as the GOP could blame the "massive new national-security bureaucracy" on Obama, the "backlash was inevitable."

Bureaucrats have made this mess worse

The government "did nothing to negate a growing impression that the airport security line is a bureaucratic nightmare," says Rory Cooper at the Daily Caller. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is "treating this story as a media-hyped bunch of nothing." The public has been crying out for an explanation of the these "newly increased screening standards." But "Secretary Napolitano has simply not made the case."

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