Revolt of the Elites: Junk-Touching Edition

More Americans think 9/11 was an inside job than oppose naked X-ray screenings at airports. But the ones who oppose the X-rays happen to have access to your televisions and computers, so America is freaking out about the TSA.

The poll data is about as stark as it gets: 81% of respondents to a CBS News poll say they support full-body X-rays at airports, while 15% were opposed. (The number who think planted explosives brought down the Twin Towers: 16%). There aren't many U.S. policies that receive such widespread support, and that poll was taken just a week and a half ago. Back in January, a Gallup poll found that 78% of frequent travelers support scans that display "a graphic image of a person's body underneath his or her clothes."

Revolt of the Elites: Junk-Touching Edition

In other words, America is overwhelmingly, categorically, and incontrovertibly unconcerned about naked x-rays. So why are we all freaking out about naked x-rays? Politico's Ben Smith sums it up:

There's no doubt about who won on this issue: Matt Drudge chose it and drove it, illustrating both his continued power and his great sense of the public mood, and it now seems a matter of time until he gets results.

Smith is right that the TSA freakout is a classic example of the Drudge-driven bullshit story. But it goes beyond that. Drudge's obsession with the scanners—and the junk-touching that, it needs to be repeated, only comes into play for folks who refuse to go through the scanners—fits in with his general paranoid worldview. But it also fits in with the fact that he flies all the time. He told the London Times that he spends 30% of his time traveling, and does things like fly to London on a whim for dinner. Most of the producers, reporters, writers, and other assorted hacks who followed Drudge's instructions to concoct a populist revolt against the scanners also fly all the time. They're among the 16% who oppose them because they don't want, personally, to have to go through them.

So, no—Drudge does not in fact have a "great sense of the public mood" when it comes to the TSA. Eighty-one percent of Americans think Matt Drudge is wrong. He does, however, have a great sense of the mood of a vanishingly small coterie of self-interested media types who are perfectly willing to take Drudge's outrage—and their own—as a proxy for the will of the people against all evidence. The entire TSA story has literally been concocted in the hopes that the TSA can be bamboozled into valuing the convenience of Drudge and the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg and a bunch of reporters over its own assessments of the air system's security needs.

Of course, Drudge and Goldberg and their friends could be right—maybe the scanners and the alternative pat-downs are terrible policies. Maybe they have good arguments against them. But no matter how you cut it, the alleged "furor" and "tumult" surrounding them are not actual phenomena in the observable world. They're a bunch of rich people whining into an echo chamber and passing it off as an uprising.

Now, as Nate Silver points out, only roughly one in three Americans travels by plane each year. So the people who are directly impacted by the new procedures could reasonably object to them and still remain in the minority. But so what? The TSA is a federal agency. Its actions affect all of us, whether we fly once in a decade or once a day. And a vast majority of Americans have decided that they'd rather take at least some steps to prevent another underwear bomber than to simply ignore him and pretend that people like him are not actively trying to find a way around our security procedures. Imagine the outrage if signs were posted at every TSA checkpoint reading, "WE HAVE DONE NOTHING TO TRY TO PREVENT PASSENGERS FROM BRINGING PETN SEWN INTO THEIR CLOTHING ONTO YOUR AIRPLANE, DESPITE REPEATED WARNINGS IN THE PAST THAT VARIOUS TERRORIST GROUPS INTEND TO DO SO. ENJOY YOUR FLIGHT."