As I watched the whole TSA swarm descend on the media and Internet over the past month, I was surprised at the violent reaction from the left AND right on airport screenings. Blowing this issue up right before the holidays seemed to be a Tea Party tactic from beginning to end, as far as I was concerned.
Mark Ames and Yasha Levine at The Nation contended in a post yesterday that the current publicity surge was orchestrated and magnified by organizations with ties to Koch Industries. With one exception, they list a solid trail that leads back to organizations with a vested interest in: a) discrediting government agencies and the TSA specifically; and b) discrediting the current administration's ability to handle national security. Unfortunately, they led off the article by trying to link up John Tyner ("Don't Touch My Junk") with these organizations, and as many critics have pointed out, there is no "there", there.
As for his standing accused by The Nation of suspicion on the grounds of his avowed libertarianism, consider what he wrote several weeks before the TSA incident. In a post responding to this question -- "When’s the last time you were seriously inconvenienced or injured by something that big government did?" -- Tyner wrote:
Gay rights [infringements], TSA body scanners, highway checkpoints, the PATRIOT Act, warrantless wiretaps, extra-judicial assassinations, indefinite detentions, inflation, etc. Don't tell me that (some of) these don't affect me. When one person's rights are trampled, everybody's are, and that's just at the federal level.
What a right-wing monster! If only Democratic Party leaders -- who support most of the serious rights infringements he condemns -- were this monstrous. Or consider what he wrote about the statements of Juan Williams and Bill O'Reilly which conflated Muslims with Terrorists: (read the rest)
The article my magazine, The Nation, published about John Tyner is a shameful smear
While I tend to agree with his criticism of their opening focus on John Tyner, and particularly the authors' focus on personal details of Tyner's education and background as evidence of his bias, that should not automatically disqualify the balance of their article, where they list at least six other connections which are solid and easily documented.
The authors responded to Greenwald's criticism late Wednesday, writing:
We believe that Tyner is in all likelihood innocent in his motives, but our larger point is that his discourse and the movement that has embraced it is far from innocent. In focusing entirely on our characterization of Tyner, Greenwald ignores the larger thrust of our argument and the vast majority of the evidence assembled in the piece, leaving a distorted impression of it.
On this point, I agree. Their article would have been stronger without any reference or only a mere passing reference to John Tyner. I don't believe anyone is arguing that the TSA is perfect, that their scanners are the best we have to offer, or that body searches are not a violation of civil liberties. I certainly am not. At the same time, these issues are not new. It isn't as though patdowns are a new procedure in effect as of this holiday. They've been doing them for years. So why now? Why when there are so many important issues on the table, is this one taking the center stage. Levine and Ames have the same question:
Here is what the article really said: Like many Americans, we found the TSA's intrusive procedures offensive and we are against the invasive pat-downs and attack on our civil liberties. This was a given in our article, and we stated as much. What our article did was look beyond the obvious surface, into possible reasons why this particular issue suddenly rose to forefront of the national debate, when dozens of other, more pressing issues are getting so little attention--people being kicked out of their homes and living on the street because of fraudulent foreclosures, a massive wealth transfer from struggling Americans to the financial sector, ongoing wars that are bankrupting the country and killing thousands, the attack on public education and so on.
They found enough connections inside and outside of Congress to warrant a report on it. Unfortunately, the gist of their findings has been lost in the larger anger over a) the tenuous linking to John Tyner; and b) the overall outrage over enhanced TSA screening procedures.
Here's what bothers me. This smelled like an overblown PR effort from the get-go. Again, I am NOT saying there aren't problems, but this happening right now when more people are flying home to family and friends for the holidays is not coincidental. It's just not. Now The Nation has linked the "OptOut" campaign to astroturf sources, but is still getting a complete smackdown by those who would ordinarily pay attention because...why?
The anti-TSA campaign began in early November, and gained traction just in the nick of time for Thanksgiving travel. Absent from the debate on the left side of the aisle was any discussion about where employees of the TSA stand with regard to unionizing (they have not had a chance to vote on a union to represent them yet); about the clamor for privatization despite the fact that privatization has failed once; whether those employees were properly trained and whether the actual stories told were factual or not. We know Meg McLain's was a complete fabrication. We know the guy headlined by Drudge actually cooperated with authorities.
So what is so unreasonable about linking up agendas with what certainly appears to be a well-timed and carefully crafted campaign? Isn't there a way to both acknowledge the issues inherent with these TSA screening procedures AND the idea that it's being capitalized upon for political gain?
To many, it seems to be a zero-sum game. If one doesn't choose to accept the premise that this entire brouhaha is an organic swarm commanding attention because of self-inflicted TSA incompetence -- malevolence, even -- from a government intent on invading every single aspect of our lives and killing the constitution, then in Greenwald's estimation we must be
"centro-facist" (see below) party hacks falling into lockstep and yessing every move with no regard for facts, liberties, or any combination thereof. And that conclusion would exclude any possibility at all that there was, in fact, a PR push to make this a Very Big Issue at a time where a lot of people would be affected and view the TSA, and by extension, this administration in a negative light.
I do believe the TSA has bungled their handling of airport security. I do believe they believe they're doing what they're called to do, but doing it badly and without regard to people's rights. I also believe those errors were capitalized upon by people with agendas and money who set a PR machine in motion to score political points and ultimately political victories which also will disregard our rights and liberties. For Glenn Greenwald and others, this is less important than what the TSA is doing right now. He acknowledges the possibility that the six different instances cited by The Nation may have been true and factual, but for him, the mention and "smear" (his words, not mine) of John Tyner supercede any validity the other 3/4ths of their piece may have had.
It may be that several vocal opponents of the new TSA process are Koch-funded -- that wouldn't surprise me -- but that has absolutely nothing to do with Tyner, and The Nation, for which I have high regard, owes him an apology and retraction for the innuendo it smeared on him without a shred of evidence.
Nothing is absolute. It's likely that all dynamics are at work. Without the work of The Nation's reporters, we would be missing a piece of the larger picture. How are we harmed by that, and why shouldn't it be weighted with more than a passing nod tossed in a maelstrom of biting criticism?
Update and clarification: The term "centro-fascist" was one used by The Nation authors in their response to Glenn Greenwald. The phrasing I used made it appear to be attributable to him. I had originally quoted the authors' full quote using that term, and removed it to make the length readable. In so doing, it left that quote attributable to the wrong speaker.