Analysis Op-Ed Review

Scott Simon: NPR Commentator or TSA Propagandist?

Scott Simon ran a story today classified as ‘Commentary’ but which is closer to state propaganda — and bad propaganda at that.

In “Security Lines Are Interminable, But With Good Reason” — itself a stunning headline even for ‘Commentary’ — Simon even contradicts his thesis. He cites a DHS investigation that found TSA scanners failed 67 of 70 times during the study and mentions the “sound questions” of security experts who have doubts about “whether those long lines, body scans, and occasional pat-downs do much to actually catch or deter bombers and hijackers.”

What can justify the long lines then? “The loss of [an Egyptian aircraft], whether or not it turns out to be a terrorist act, reminded us why those security lines are there.” So even though the only reporting in this article casts serious doubt on the efficacy of the security lines, the loss of a single aircraft — which event he admits he doesn’t have reason to believe was even related to terrorism — is enough to remind us that “miss[ing] your flight” isn’t “the worst thing that can happen.” No kidding?

As a journalist, Simon should probably follow the evidence he reports and question the efficacy of lines, not rubberstamp them because of a scary plane crash. Or, perhaps if Simon had interviewed some people waiting in the line, he might have been able to report that this Egypt plane has caused people to re-embrace the security lines because of the same fear mongering he’s espousing. But Simon gives us no reason to believe he spoke to anyone in security line. In fact, all we have is a statement of his perception that “lots of passengers… groused about the long, slow security lines… but there was a lot more silent resignation among us sullen lines of passengers.” In other words, Simon’s gut feel is that this Egyptian crash is encouraging people to stay the course on long TSA lines.

With no evidence to support his premise, and in fact evidence against it, this grim it-could-be-worse rant sounds a lot less like ‘Commentary’ and a lot more like the sort of propaganda you might expect from the TSA to justify its security policies. It’s troubling that Simon even thought these things, but much worse that he wrote them and was given uncritical column space to express them on NPR.

I think Simon and the editors that enabled him should be held to account publicly for this instance of basic abdication of the responsibilities of the journalist: to report evidence without bias, and to act as a check on institutional power.

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