The biggest story of the season wasn’t a story at all

By now, you’ve probably heard all about the U.S.’s controversially
invasive new airline security measures, and how they inspired National
Opt-Out Day
, an internet-organized protest that called on travellers to
refuse pat-downs. Journalists speculated mass protest would bog down
airports on one of the year’s busiest travel days. Of course, it didn’t
happen. How was the media so off?

The New York Times’ David Carr has some ideas. He calls the T.S.A story — and all its subsequent offshoots — a “nearly perfect Perfect Storm,” and explains how each factor (including timing, displacement and good visuals) contributed to the media hype that followed. “The government’s below-the-radar rollout of the new protocol (Memo to the T.S.A.: never sneak up on the American public) gave it a conspiratorial sheen,” he writes, adding “These incremental changes in technology and intimacy of searches may be a step toward the Big Brotherification of American life, but it is just not that big of a deal outside the media bubble. But the issues at hand were momentous: liberty, security and the American way.”

Also noteworthy is the role gender played. “The issue of personal searches and enhanced visibility on scans would seem to be a more acute one for women, given the objectification of women in general and greater history of assault. But discussion on Twitter included two times as many men as women, according to Trendrr. Something primal is at work here, that speaks to both machismo — boys don’t touch boys — and certain male insecurities about being visible to strangers. You thought that dream of being in high school in your underwear was bad.”

But, as we know how, nothing actually happened at the airport on so-called National Opt-Out Day. Carr writes:

“The occasional protester was surrounded not by angry crowds but eager reporters. Under all the buzz, 80 percent of Americans travelling were still encountering the same procedures that have been in place for years.

“By midday Wednesday, a forlorn CNN correspondent was wandering around during a live shot with nothing to report, with a nearby keening baby the only indication of terminal rage. No word on whether the diaper was breached.

“The pat-down story was the equivalent of vaporware — it seemed as if something huge was about to happen, but it turned out that it was a story about a story, the noisy, fervent sound of a news system feeding on itself. “

By the way, Carr adds, “you know who travels a lot? Reporters.”