It happened again.
At a time when the federal agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems can least afford it, there was another dust-up involving a young passenger — this time to Lucy Forck, a three-year-old with spina bifida flying to Disney World with her family.
When the little girl in a wheelchair is pulled over for a pat-down, her mother starts taping the procedure on her phone, which is permitted.
“It’s illegal to do that,” an agent says off camera, as Lucy sobs.
“I don’t wanna go to Disneyworld,” the girl cries.
After a 20-minute delay, the family was allowed to board their flight. The TSA eventually issued a tepid apology. The agency watchdog site TSA News Blog documented the controversy and added its two cents.
“The tactics here are insensitive and unkind on their face, as well as pointless,” wrote blogger Deborah Newell Tornello. “Not only is this little girl so obviously terrified to the point of crying out loud, and desperately upset that her comfort toy — her stuffed animal — is being taken away, she is distraught that her parents’ attempts to protect her are being summarily ignored.”
And that’s where it would have probably ended. Except that another site, which is probably best described as “pro” TSA, caught wind of the post and the predictable outrage being generated in the comments.
And it had a very different perspective.
“If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times,” the blogger wrote on a Boston-area sports site. “There is no bigger supporter of TSA on the planet than me. I’m team TSA loud and proud. I pretty much side with them 1,000 percent of the time in situations like these. And guess what? I’m siding with them again here.”
The Boston sports fans collided with the civil liberties activists on TSA News, creating a digital mushroom cloud. Eventually, the comment thread had to be shut down.
Where did these apologists come from?
It would be tempting to dismiss these TSA defenders as nothing more than social media plants paid by the Department of Homeland Security to rally support for a demoralized TSA. But that explanation would be too simplistic.
While there’s plenty of evidence that the American federal government is actively engaged in blogging and other forms of social media, it’s also an undeniable fact that some air travelers stand behind anything the TSA does — no matter how ill-advised or constitutionally problematic.
One of those voices belongs to travel guidebook personality Arthur Frommer, who comes to the TSA’s defense at regular intervals.
“We should be grateful to have a serious, dedicated TSA working hard to prevent terrorists from taking weapons onto a passenger airplane and seizing control of it,” he wrote on his blog recently. Frommer has also dismissed the TSA’s critics as “alarmist” and “sensation-seeking.”
Is there common ground?
Are these TSA defenders right? Are the agency’s critics just a small group of activists hell bent on letting the terrorists incinerate another plane over America’s skies?