Today Show Frets Grandma Won't be Frisked

As anti-terror techniques go, the one announced this week by the TSA - that of chatting with airline passengers to see if they exhibit tell-tale signs of nervousness - seems relatively unlikely to result in racial or ethnic profiling, since it focuses on behavior rather than superficial characteristics.

But that wasn't sufficient to prevent Matt Lauer, with a little help from his guest, from playing the racial profiling card on this morning's Today show.

From the get-go, NBC terrorism expert and former FBI agent Christopher Whitcomb expressed scorn for the new program: "the color coding system was kind of ridiculous, and I kind of think this is. I think the public looks at this and says 'what are they doing?'"

He later added: "This is not a tactic that they're going to trip someone up with."

Echoing the ACLU, which has wasted no time in filing a lawsuit against the program, Lauer archly asked: "are they going to strike up conversations with blond-haired, blue-eyed guys?"

Whitcomb picked up the theme: "I don't see it. Or grandmothers in wheelchairs. I don't think that's going to happen."

Matt moved in for the kill: "So you think racial profiling is a problem?"

Whitcomb: "As human beings you're going to look for higher risks and the risks we've seen in terrorism in the past have been ascribed to a certain racial profile."

Some of course, including conservative columnist Michell Malkin, have flatly defended racial profiling in the war on terror. As she put it:

"Many of the ethnic activists and civil-liberties groups who object most strenuously to the use of racial, ethnic, religious and nationality classifications during war support the use of similar classifications to ensure "diversity" or "parity" in peacetime.

"The civil-rights hypocrites have never met a "compelling government interest" for using racial, ethnicity or nationality classifications they didn't like, except when that compelling interest happens to be the nation's very survival."

Perhaps someday someone will have the chance to ask Matt whom he would like to see screened on a flight he was about to board: Granny Smith from Sioux City, or the nervous fellow who looks similar to the nineteen 9/11 bombers?

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.