December 1, 2010

MSM on the TSA

Airport Security
Nov 0.2
Dec 0.1
Jan 2008 0.02
Feb 0.2
Mar 0.1
Apr 0.01
May 0.1
Jun 0.03
Jul 0.1
Aug 0.05
Sep 0.01
Oct 0.04
Nov 0.008
Dec 0.001
Jan 2009 0.001
Feb 0.1
Mar 0.02
Apr 0.001
May 0.01
Jun 0.001
Jul 0.001
Aug 0.01
Sep 0.02
Oct 0.1
Nov 0.004
Dec 1.4
Jan 2010 1.6
Feb 0.2
Mar 0.01
Apr 0.3
May 0.01
Jun 0.02
Jul 0.003
Aug 0.01
Sep 0.1
Oct 0.1
Nov* 2.3

6.3% – Percentage of coverage devoted to airport security the week of November 15-21, 2010

While millions of travelers have experienced the heightened U.S. airport security measures in recent years, that subject has not generally attracted substantial coverage in the mainstream media.

At least not until two weeks ago when one passenger uttered this now famous phrase to TSA screeners at San Francisco International Airport: “If you touch my junk, I will have you arrested.”

For that week (November 15-21), when passenger John Tyner’s response to more invasive airport searches seemed to strike a chord, attention to airport security filled 6.3% of the newshole, its highest level of coverage since PEJ began tracking that topic in November 2007. Much of the coverage focused on anger from passengers as well as TSA’s defense that the procedures were necessary for security. But many of the passenger protests and concerns about airport slowdowns that were part of the media narrative failed to materialize over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Indeed, in the past three years there has been only one other time that airport security made significant news. Following the failed Christmas Day airplane bomb plot, calls for increased airport security—including demands for more use of full body scanners—filled 5.2% of the newshole from December 28, 2009-January 3, 2010.

The full body scanners—which some are calling “virtual strip searches”—have been in use since 2008. For much of the time, however, coverage of airport security issues has been negligible with only small spikes. The topic, for example, filled 0.3% of the newshole the week of October 25-31, 2010, when the TSA began using new more invasive pat downs—including touching private areas and underneath clothing—if passengers refused to go through the also controversial full body scanners.

Attention to the new security procedures then picked up slightly when the pilots union got involved in the issue. Concerns about possible effects of frequent radiation scanning and allegations by the pilots union that such invasive pat downs were “unacceptable” to perform on “professional airplane pilots”  contributed to airport security filling 0.7% of the newshole the week of November 8-14.

One week later, public anger boiled over, as epitomized by Tyner’s sentiments, and media coverage followed suit.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ