Joe Scarborough Says TSA Screening Controversy 'Most Ginned-Up Story of the Year,' But Recants Position When Guests Disagree

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough blasted protesters and opponents of the new TSA screening procedures on Wednesday's "Morning Joe," only to recant his position on the show's next hour when he realized two panel members criticized the new checks. "I was saying this was a made-up debate – this is a real debate, I guess," Scarborough admitted on the second hour of his show.

While Scarborough and co-hosts Mika Brzezinski and Willie Geist, as well as MSNBC political analyst Harold Ford, sympathized with TSA workers and defended the new checks, two guests opposed the new search methods. Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan and New York Magazine columnist John Heilemann criticized the TSA procedures.

Early in the first hour of the show, Scarborough ranted against the "opt-out" protestors who would be forgoing the body scanners at airports Wednesday to be subjected to pat-down checks, deliberately frustrating and slowing down the process on one of the busiest travel days of the year. Scarborough has recently promoted civil discourse on his show with the mantra "Keep Calm and Carry On," but let loose at the protesters Wednesday.
    

"Stay home," Scarborough told the protesters. "And in fact, I am traveling today. Stay the hell out of my way, stay the hell out of my airport. Stay home." He also slammed the general outcry against the procedures, calling it "the most ginned-up story of the year." Co-host Willie Geist said that the procedures are "worth a little groping" since they will save lives and keep passengers safe. "It's a win-win for me. I get groped – and my plane is safe," the ever-classy Scarborough joked.

In the show's second hour, however, Peggy Noonan said the controversy is "absolutely real," questioning if the procedures crossed "the line of human dignity." New York Magazine's John Heilemann went further, claiming that the procedures are not only indecent, but ineffective.

"I've not yet heard, apart from people who are actually at TSA – a single security expert who thinks this is going to solve the problem. It's fighting the last war," he claimed.

"If this thing is going to cause people to have the kind of problems Peggy's describing, in terms of giving up their dignity, and it's not going to make us any safer, what's the argument then?" Heilemann added.

A transcript of the segments, which aired on November 24 at 6:13 a.m. and 7:01 a.m. EDT respectively, is as follows:

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Those people getting in the way – seriously?

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Seriously. You know what? Stay home. Stay home. And in fact, I am traveling today. Stay the hell out of my way, stay the hell out of my airport. Stay home.

(...)

SCARBOROUGH: For 2010, this goes down as the most ginned-up story of the year. It – and it was ginned-up by news agencies leading into the busiest travel day of the year –

BRZEZINSKI: Ahhh –

SCARBOROUGH: I have yet to talk to an American in New York City or beyond that doesn't say "I'd rather them pat me down than let somebody blow up a plane that my kids and I are on."

WILLIE GEIST: Again –

SCARBOROUGH: This isn't a close call! And I'm tired of the TS – these TSA people are being scapegoated for doing their jobs, and what is their jobs? Keeping my little boy, my little girl –

BRZEZINSKI: Their jobs are almost impossible.

SCARBOROUGH: – my wife, and my two older boys safe. That's their job.

GEIST: ...for all the noise, less than two percent of travelers will get these pat-downs. It's not like half the country is being patted down. A tiny group of people is being patted down. You might say it violates your civil liberties, I say it's worth a little groping.

BRZEZINSKI: I don't know what else we're supposed to do.

SCARBOROUGH: And let me just say –

BRZEZINSKI: One terrorist strike, and we'll all be changing our tune.

SCARBOROUGH: It's a win-win for me. I get groped, and – and...my plane is safe.

(...)

SCARBOROUGH: So Jim Bell, who runs the "Today" show. ...basically takes issue with me saying "Just keep my family safe" --

BRZEZINSKI: Where are you going to draw the line? Are you going to have cameras down people's pants, or whatever –

(...)

SCARBOROUGH: ...but a war erupted...because I was saying this was a made-up debate – this is a real debate, I guess.

PEGGY NOONAN, Wall Street Journal columnist: Oh, I think it's absolutely real. Oddly enough I think the war over the pat-down TSA procedures is a little bit like the August, 2009 townhall uprisings. This is how – August, 2009 townhall uprisings happened on YouTube. Nobody knew what was happening until citizens started taking videos of townhall meetings with their congressmen and senators, putting it on YouTube, and you could see we've got a revolt going on in America. That is exactly what happened with the pat-downs only in the last three-four weeks.

SCARBOROUGH: But Peggy, I want to be safe.

NOONAN: When the pat-down procedures change –

SCARBOROUGH: What's wrong with the TSA –

NOONAN: At some place you have to, I think, draw a line of human dignity.

SCARBOROUGH: Where?

NOONAN: When you have TSA workers, government workers, groping around in your private areas, humiliating ladies, scaring poor little children, embarrassing grown-up men, you're doing something wrong.

SCARBOROUGH: But Peggy, you say "groping around" – they're not doing that for a thrill. They're looking for bombs. The underwear bomber, what's it called –

(Crosstalk)

SCARBOROUGH: The underwear bomber wasn't called the underwear bomber because he had good-looking boxers on. He was called the underwear bomber because that's where he was trying to hide the bomb. If we say "Don't worry, women are not going to be checked from the shoulder to the midriff – well, where are they going to put the bombs?   

JOHN HEILEMANN, NY Mag columnist: Well also Joe, you think that –

NOONAN: You've gotta use some common sense.

HEILMANN: You think that on the – put aside the question of the fact that the x-ray machines are essentially strip-searching you as you go through them. Put aside all the civil libertarian concerns. I've not yet heard, apart from people who are actually at TSA – a single security expert who thinks this is going to solve the problem. It's fighting the last war. You've got to – the x-ray scanners do not, for instance, as Peggy was bringing up during the break – they don't actually scan for any bomb that someone puts in themselves as opposed to on themselves. So you're a terrorist, as you were just pointing out, who looks at this thing set up – it's the same problem. You say "Well here's what the machine scans for and here's what the pat-down succeeds in doing, so I will do something else." The guy who ran for 20 years security at Ben Gurion Airport, which is the toughest, as we all know, the best security – looked at the x-ray scanning machines in this regime and said "Total waste of time, we've not solved the problem. I could blow-up an airplane anywhere in the world right now under this system."

So if it was the case that we were making civil liberties concessions for perfect security, then I think many people here would say "Okay fine, feel me up. Not a problem." But if this thing is going to cause people to have the kind of problems Peggy's describing, in terms of giving up their dignity, and it's not going to make us any safer, what's the argument then?

(...)

SCARBOROUGH: We've got to move on. I've got to say though, if the bomb had gone off on Christmas Day, we wouldn't be having this discussion now.

 

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014