TSA’s John Pistole: all propaganda all the time

TSA Administrator John Pistole periodically conducts what are euphemistically called public relations campaigns. 

These PR onslaughts follow a predictable pattern: credulous reporters ask namby-pamby questions, take everything Pistole says at face value, don’t follow up, and gush their thanks when the interview is over.

Two years ago, when Pistole implemented the scanners and the gropes (what I call the Reign of Molestation), he was, amazingly, asked if TSA workers should ever be allowed to stick their hands down people’s pants. He said no. But, of course, we know from evidence that this happens all the time.

On November 16, 2010 Pistole took to the airwaves for an interview on NPR that was so inane, so incomprehensible, it was practically a work of art (perhaps of the Dada variety, apologies to Marcel Duchamp et les autres). As one listener, Margo Fesperman, commented at the NPR blog at the time (her comment and all others in that discussion since scrubbed from NPR’s site):

“Mr. Pistole should be on Dancing with the Stars. He tap danced around every question because there is no defense of the new policies. As Melissa Block pointed out, most of the policies are ‘after the fact’ and he could not identify how to get ahead of the game. I have not heard an interview in a very long time where the speaker was so verbose with so little content.”

Then, last year, just before Thanksgiving, Pistole conducted another PR campaign, with his usual obfuscating language.

This year, he’s busy again with his rote statements and mollifying blather about “layers” of security. And once again, he went on NPR to repeat his evidence-free (and often evidence-refuted) claims.

And how was he treated?

With the utmost deference and respect, and not a whiff of journalistic skepticism. Not a mention of the number of TSA employees who’ve been arrested and charged with serious crimes, ranging from theft to rape to child pornography. Not a single question about the continuing, documented instances of bullying, harassment, and assault. Not a breath about contractors hired by the TSA and DHS possibly committing crimes. Not a whisper about Blogger Bob disparaging passengers on our dime. Just lots of bromides and cutesy comments about shampoo. In fact, the interview ended on this cheery note:

“Well, John Pistole, thank you so much for explaining it all to us.”

Yes, thank you so much for explaining it all to us! Now we understand why your job is so difficult and so important and how you and your minions are so brave and protect us all from certain death at any moment!

The least NPR could’ve done, if they were just going to lob softball questions at Pistole, was to have someone else on the air after him, someone who is willing to critique this 8-billion-dollar-a-year agency that we all pay for and that continues to abuse the traveling public. Someone reputable and respected in his field, someone like Bruce Schneier perhaps.

But no. It’s much easier to play stenographer. To stick a microphone in front of somebody and let him rip, something that any 6th grader could do, and call it “journalism.”

(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/ClownBurner)

  • Pat Downe

    NPR gets funding from the federal government. Any wonder NPR plays the shill?

    • A sad day for journalism.

    • Much as I really enjoy NPR, one of the reasons I would like to see NPR defunded is that I believe (no real evidence) that NPR’s basic B+ coverage has killed any incentive for CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, LA Times, etc. to provide good coverage of their own.

      The basic coverage from NPR is good. Not always great. Often with a sort of upper middle class, liberal like a recent journalist grad student, corporate sponsorship, government is our friend status point of view.

      It would be nice to hear alternative points of view.

    • Pat, actually, NPR gets only 2% of its direct funding from the govt. Most of it comes from corporations and foundations. Individual member stations — individual public radio stations around the country that are NPR members — do get direct federal funding, and they then pay dues to NPR for the right to broadcast NPR programs. So indirectly, yes, NPR gets more than 2% govt funding.

      But bottom line is that the network is determined to be mainstream with a capital “M”, and that means that it won’t rock the boat. In any way. So its corporate-pleasing bent is out there for all to see/hear.

  • I am somewhat dumbfounded that I don’t see lawyers forming civil rights organizations to fight the TSA,

    • Oliver, several people are suing on 4th Amendment grounds. Their lawsuits are s-l-o-w-l-y making their way, they hope, to the Supreme Court. EPIC is one of the organizations that has been suing and is staying on top of this.

      As for the ACLU, I can only tell you, based on my layman’s understanding, what the reluctance is: apparently the ACLU is afraid it will lose — will lose the 4th Amendment argument. Apparently they think the high court could come down on the side of “administrative search” legality (which is really just a way of throwing out the 4th Amendment). If that were to happen, that would be bad legal precedent, leaving us worse off than we are now. Again, I’m explaining this from a non-lawyer’s point of view, the way I understand how it was explained to me.

      • You are correct, Lisa. That is precisely the reason the ACLU has given when I’ve pushed them on this point. Because I think that this is such a critical issue, I decided not to renew my membership this year, despite all the good the ACLU does. I think we should fight for what’s right, not just the battles we can be sure of winning.

        I think they used to call that “idealism.”

        • There are 2 lawsuits, independent of the ACLU or any help from them, making their way towards potential courtroom appearances next year.

          Jon Corbett’s lawsuit (google Jon Corbett) and the Redfern (google Redfern, TSA) suit.

          Both plaintiff’s are approaching it slightly differently.

          The sad fact is, the 4th Amendment is eviscerated NOW, so it is highly unlikely any lawsuit will make it worse than the ALREADY “accepted” regimen of ineffective strip search scanners – with AND without nude images – and the criminal touching of genitals and breasts

          I do give the ACLU some credit; they are on top of the obviously anti-constitutional “No Fly List” when it is applied to US citizens.

          We should really ask ourselves where NOW and AARP are? Their members are highly profiled – the mastectomy patient stories and those in wheelchairs or with medical issues are singled out more often.

          • Daisiemae

            I have resigned my membership in AARP because they have not taken a stance against TSA’s abuse of the elderly.

          • Deb

            It’s not just NOW and AARP – it’s EVERY disability, wellness and activist lobby. Where is The American Cancer Society? Where is CCFA? (Crohn’s and Colitis); Diabetes, AMA, The National Kidney Foundation, American Heart Association, ACPOC (prosthetics) Gloria Effing Allred, who never met a camera or a cause she couldn’t exploit? Where the hell ARE these people????

          • Deb, indeed. Also the American Psychological Association and other mental health organizations. So far, the only health-related org I’ve come across that has taken a stand is the Amputee Coalition of America. See this post:


          • Deb

            Yes I cannot believe I forgot to include prominent organizations such as RAINN (rape, abuse trauma) and all the mental health groups who should be hanging their heads in shame. What kind of outreach have people on our side of this fight been doing directly with these groups? I had a few words via Twitter with CCFA after the Canadian teen with the Ostomy endured a mortifying search – I think I shamed them – briefly. But where to go from here I am not sure . . .

          • Susan Richart

            Many of these organizations get federal funds/grants and, therefore, they are afraid to speak out for fear of losing said funding.

      • Thanks for the reply.

        I would like to see the ACLU put out a video akin to flexyourrights that laid out precisely what they felt a person could object to and how best to do that.

        And also explain what they feel no one should submit to and precisely how to document your encounter with the TSA for best legal support.

        But it seems we can a) win now, b) lose now, c) win in the future, or d) lose in the future. The ACLU believes winning now is not possible. I guess I would prefer we lose now but at least have some boundaries specifically laid out now, then have our intrusions ever increased only to d) lose in the future at that even worse point.

        Apart from that though, the ACLU should not be the only game in town, ESPECIALLY, when all I hear from lawyers is how so many of them are out of work and looking for things to do.

  • 1amWendy

    What’s amazing is that Pistole can psychologically able to keep this up. Whatever happened to cognitive dissonance? IMHO, he’s either terribly delusional or psychopathic enough to be able to keep up this fantasy of his. And THAT’s quite scary.

    • 1amWendy

      So I have a cut finger and my bandaid hit enter just as I realized that this needs an edit: “can” in line 1 should be “is”. And comment editing appears non-existent.

      • Don’t worry, Wendy, we get it. 🙂 If you’re logged in to Disqus, you should be able to edit your comments. Try logging out and logging in anew.

    • Drontil

      He’s a psychopath, many in LE are.