Right-wing media return to demanding “misleading and, arguably, dangerous” racial profiling

The conservative media have used the public backlash against airport security screenings as an opportunity to renew their calls for racial profiling. Security experts say that racial profiling is ineffective, and Bush administration Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has called it “misleading and, arguably, dangerous.”

Security experts: Racial profiling is ineffective and potentially “dangerous”

Chertoff: Profiling is “misleading and, arguably, dangerous.” On the January 3 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, Chertoff stated that “relying on preconceptions or stereotypes is actually kind of misleading, and, arguably, dangerous” (transcript from the Nexis database):

DAVID GREGORY (host): But I want to press Secretary Chertoff on this point, because that's what the counterterror officials will say -- it's more than a contributing factor. We know who 90 percent of these terrorists are. There may be other examples of women being used and whatnot, but Islamic males between the age of 20 and 30 make up roughly 90 percent of that profile. Is that an inappropriate or appropriate way for law enforcement to be targeting individuals?

CHERTOFF: I think relying on preconceptions or stereotypes is actually kind of misleading and, arguably, dangerous. Obviously, you --

GREGORY: So that's wrong, that profile is wrong?

CHERTOFF: Correct.


CHERTOFF: And what I would say is you want to look at things like where has the person traveled to, where have they spent time, what has their behavior been? But recognize -- one of the things that al Qaeda has done is deliberately try to recruit people who don't fit the stereotype, who are Western in background or appearance. Look at the guy like Adam Gadahn, who grew up in California, who is one of the senior-level al Qaeda operatives but does not fit the normal prejudice about what an extremist looks like.

Similarly, on the December 29, 2009 edition of National Public Radio's All Things Considered, Chertoff stated that “the danger and the foolishness of profiling” is that “people's conception of what a potential terrorist looks like often doesn't match reality”:

ROBERT SIEGEL (host): How should the U.S. reconcile reasonable, ethical restraints on profiling with some obvious facts that this sort of thing has been done by Muslim men, typically, and also of a certain age. One could focus pretty heavily on Muslim men under 40 and come up with lots of the people who are posing threats.

Mr. CHERTOFF: Actually Robert, I'm going to argue that this case illustrates the danger and the foolishness of profiling because people's conception of what a potential terrorist looks like often doesn't match reality. In this case we had a Nigerian, for example, not a person from the Middle East or from South Asia. If you look at the airline plot of 2006, two of the plotters were a married couple that were going to get on a plane with a young baby. The terrorists understand that the more they vary the kind of operative they use, the more likely they're going to be able to exploit prejudices if we allow those prejudices to guide the way we conduct our investigation.

SIEGEL: Your objection to profiling is not just as an ethical matter, it's a point of efficacy also. You're saying it doesn't work.

Mr. CHERTOFF: I think it's not only problematic from civil rights' standpoint, but frankly, I think it winds up not being terribly effective.

During the interview, Chertoff acknowledged that his firm does consulting for companies that make body scanners. He added, “But I would point out that I've talked about this for probably the last three years.”

International security firm's CEO: “There's no place for racial profiling in a modern society.” A December 31, 2009, Newsday article reported, “As some politicians step up calls for increased racial or ethnic profiling to thwart terrorism, most experts say such profiling is inefficient and unfair.” Newsday further reported (from Nexis):

“There's no place for racial profiling in a modern society,” said Jamie Smith, chief executive of Virginia Beach-based SCG International, an international security services firm. “We have Indonesian terrorists. We have Chechen terrorists. There are Irish terrorists. You cannot apply that sort of methodology to solving this problem.”

Statistical model for examining rare events finds profiling ineffective. According to a February 2, 2009, New York Times article, “Too great a dependence on profiling passengers by ethnicity or nationality is an ineffective way to conduct airport screening to catch terrorists, according to a statistical model for examining rare events.” The article quoted the report's author, University of Texas computational biologist and computer scientist Dr. William H. Press, who said: “We have been told that strong profiling will somehow find and siphon off the worst offenders and we'll be safe. It's not true. The math does not support that.”

Conservative media use changes in safety procedures as an excuse to again push for racial profiling

Krauthammer: “The only reason we continue to do [inspections and pat downs] is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling.” As Media Matters noted, in a November 19 Washington Post op-ed, conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer criticized the new Transportation Security Administration regulations and argued for profiling:

This has nothing to do with safety -- 95 percent of these inspections, searches, shoe removals and pat-downs are ridiculously unnecessary. The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling -- when the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable and universally known. So instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches.

Steyn: “We only have pat downs because we're not allowed to profile.” During the November 18 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show, guest host Mark Steyn said, “We only have pat downs because we're not allowed to profile people like Ahmed Ghailani." He continued to say that “profiling is now almost as bad as racism” and that “profiling is what we used to call good policing.”

Doocy: “I like the idea of the profiling.” The November 18 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends included a clip of a former El Al security chief calling for profiling. Following this, co-hosts Gretchen Carlson and Steve Doocy had the following exchange:

CARLSON: So what do you think we should do instead?

DOOCY: I like the idea of the profiling, but the way we're doing it right now, this is not making us safe.

CARLSON: I think a lot of people would be in favor of the profiling, but in this -- in the world in which we live, right or wrong, now, I don't think any politician would get profiling passed. I mean, I just think that's the world that we live in. So in the meantime, you have to find out how you're going to be the safest in the meantime.

Coulter: “It's the only advantage that we have in this war, that the enemy looks exactly alike.” On the November 17 edition of Fox News' Hannity, guest Ann Coulter advocated for profiling and interviews of foreign-born airline passengers:

SEAN HANNITY (host): All right. Coulter, let's start with you. Look, first of all, a lot of people don't like the idea of seeing -- of having pictures of their naked bodies. This enhanced pat down is very aggressive, by all accounts that we're getting here.

Here's my problem with this. I want to get on an airplane and know that I'm safe. I think every American -- everybody watching this program wants to know their airplane is safe. But Israel has as big if not a bigger security threat than we do, and they use a different system. They use profiling.


HANNITY: We don't --


HANNITY: Apparently, that's not a word we can even discuss in this country. What do you think we ought to be doing?

COULTER: Right, it's -- well, I have a little system I've worked up. I like to call it profiling. It's the only advantage we have in this war, that the enemy looks exactly alike. And if the 9-11 terrorists, the shoe bomber, the diaper bomber, the printer cartridge bomber -- if they had all come from Swedes we would be looking for Swedes and nobody would be making a peep about it.

It's only because it's Muslims that we refuse to use the only advantage we have. And, you know, as for safety, it's nearly decade since 9-11. And yet we did almost have a plane blown up over Detroit.

Airport security is wasting its time on -- I mean, that woman you just played. Does anyone think she's going to be a terrorist? No, she isn't. Nor is the little 3-year-old. Nor is 99 percent of the flying public.

They've all been foreign-born. If you did nothing more than have a five-minute conversation with the one foreign-born passenger per flight, you would be safer on airplanes.

HANNITY: All right, let me bring Peter in here.

COULTER: This is all turning it into a police state to give people a false feeling of security. And by the way, one last thing. These machines, it's more than being camera-shy about being nude on camera. Even the government's own Johns Hopkins-cited report says that unless these machines are set exactly right, and the operator knows exactly how to use it, it does pose --

HANNITY: All right.

COULTER: -- a radiological danger to anyone walking through.

Smerconish: “Are we taking into consideration...the commonalities of those who would wreak havoc?” On the November 17 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, guest host Michael Smerconish asked TSA administrator John Pistole about the use of profiling in airport security procedures:

SMERCONISH: And, finally, Mr. Pistole, Captain Sullenberger made reference to risk-based processes. I'm not sure what he meant. And you also used some of that terminology.

To me, “risk-based” means taking into consideration the commonalities of those who threaten the United States. I'm not going to use that dreaded “p” word because of all of the connotations associated with it. Are we taking into consideration, as we seek to prevent an attack, the commonalities of those who would wreak havoc on this country?

PISTOLE: Michael, we're trying to do everything possible, informed by the latest intelligence, to ensure that the traveling public is safe. So, if it is -- if intelligence says, you know, there is a group of individuals or specific individual -- obviously, that's the best way to go. When we don't have that intelligence, then we try to do a risk-based approach in saying what information do we know about the person, how can that help inform our judgments and our actions.

But we are moving forward in a risk-based perspective. I think there's more to come on that. But the pilots that we are talking about, I think is a first step, again, in terms of how do we best apply this approach.

SMERCONISH: Got it. Mr. Pistole, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.

Limbaugh: “There's a simple way to stop this stuff; it's called profiling.” Discussing the airport security procedures and terrorism on the November 17 edition of his radio show, Rush Limbaugh said, “There's a simple way to stop this stuff; it's called profiling. We're not doing what's simple here. The problems -- the solutions are simple. They're just hard for some people to stomach.”

O'Reilly: “I don't mind the government profiling.” On the November 16 edition of his Fox News show, Bill O'Reilly and guest Coulter advocated for using racial profiling rather than body scanners or pat downs:

COULTER: I think the point is, as many have said, this is Hitler's last revenge. The one thing we won't look at is, who is doing this? If a Martian landed and saw this asymmetrical warfare we're involved in --

O'REILLY: OK. But that is a legitimate point.

COULTER: We have Muslim terrorists who are not part of a country.

O'REILLY: How does it work then? Look, what the Israelis do is basically, they profile. Which I don't have a problem with, and I'm sure you don't either.


O'REILLY: And they've been fairly successful in their profiling. So, that's the alternative. Profiling. So that you don't pat down the little girl and her mother from Chattanooga because there's no reason to do that, but you do if there is a questionable guy on the, you know, itinerary.


O'REILLY: Then you take a look at him. Is that what you want? Is that what you think is better.

COULTER: Yeah. As I was saying, in this asymmetrical warfare, we have no advantages. We're not at war with a country. They are not fighting by the rules of war.

If a Martian landed, he would say, “The one advantage you guys have is they all look alike. They're all foreign born. They're all male. They're all between a certain age group.”

O'REILLY: Yeah, but there are some female suicide bombers --

COULTER: “They're all Muslims.”

O'REILLY: -- and they could easily get one of them.

COULTER: If we had been attacked, if we -- they cannot do it easily -- if we had been attacked by Swedish terrorists, this would not even be an issue.

O'REILLY: OK. So, you're saying --

COULTER: It's only because our terrorists are from third-world countries that we will not even look at profiling them. The only thing that would make any difference at all -- and by the way, even in 2001, you were more at risk of dying in a car accident than dying in an airplane. There is risk to everything. This is --

O'REILLY: All right. So you say get rid all of this stuff --

COULTER: You don't institute a police state to eliminate all risk.

O'REILLY: So get rid of all of this stuff with the machines and all of this business and institute a basic oversight, profiling situation where you look at the manifest, who's on there, what their Social Security --


O'REILLY: -- number is, what their rap sheet is, and then do you it that way. That's what you would do.

COULTER: Right. And what they ought to do is not leave it up to the government, but have the airlines do it and have airlines institute their own policies.

O'REILLY: I don't about that.

COULTER: And they'd figure out what worked.

O'REILLY: Have you ever tried a hot dog on an airline? I'm not sure I want the airlines in charge. I don't mind the government profiling, but it would have to be the government doing it. And --

COULTER: Uh-uh. It has to be the government not doing it. It has to be the private airplanes doing it -- or airlines. They can see who their frequent fliers are. They're looking at the flight manifest. And they don't want their planes going down.

O'REILLY: All right. Ann Coulter, everybody, very provocative. Thank you.

Hannity: Israel's profiling is “a paradigm, a model that is enormously successful.” On the November 16 edition of his Fox News show, Hannity called Israel's practice of using profiling a “paradigm” and asked guests Dana Perino and Stuart Varney if the U.S. should be profiling as well. Varney replied, “Yes,” and called for “a tiered profiling system where you look at certain types of person in a different way”:

HANNITY: Dana, this -- I think Stuart's exactly right. There is an alternative here. We have a paradigm, a model that is enormously successful, and that's Israel. And they profile. They don't spend that much time on toddlers that are ending up crying. They don't spend a lot of time on grandmothers in wheelchairs.

They target, they profile. And they do not have these body checks. And they don't have these body-image scans. Is that the way we should be going?

PERINO: Well, I think that there's going to be a discussion. As Stuart said, there is a prairie fire burning out there with passengers.

You know, I take about 10 to 20 flights a month. And I -- and judging by the flights that I'm on -- because they're all full -- I'm not alone. And, you know, you do have to think about, when you're getting ready in the morning, “I've got to get shoes that I can slip into.” And of course, it's harder in the winter because I want to wear fashionable high-heel boots. But --

HANNITY [laughing]: Gee, thanks, Dana.

PERINO: Besides that, it's the -- it is the intrusiveness when you're standing there and you feel so vulnerable. And you know that the TSA people have been told that this is their job.

HANNITY: Well --

PERINO: I think for the most part they do it professionally. But with the new Congress in town, with passengers increasingly concerned about their privacy and their ability, I think there will be a discussion at least of maybe looking at some different alternatives.

HANNITY: Listen, I kind of agree with this guy Tyner. I don't feel like sitting there and, you know, having people look at my pathetically fat naked body.

PERINO: No one does.

HANNITY: I don't.

PERINO: Believe me, we don't.

HANNITY: And the second thing is -- some of these images were released to the public. And now we've got CAIR -- Stuart, they want an exemption or waiver for Muslim women. And Janet Napolitano's considering this.

VARNEY: This will make it even worse. It will make Secretary Napolitano look even worse if she even considers giving some kind of waiver or exemption for Muslim women in Muslim garb. Can you imagine how the rest of the people are going figure this one out? This would really stoke the level of outrage. It really would.

HANNITY: All right. So is the answer profiling?

VARNEY: Yes. But when you say “profiling,” it doesn't mean you pick out Muslims. It means that you have a tiered profiling system where you look at certain types of person in a different way.

Now, you mentioned that the Israelis have been very successful in keeping bombers off El Al. Well, the British were also successful in keeping the Irish Republic Army off bombing British Airways.


VARNEY: And they didn't do it by frisking absolutely everybody. They did it by a system of profiling. Intelligent, tiered profiling.

HANNITY: All right. So, is this, Dana -- after the American people go through the scanners and after their groins are patted down, and you have more complaints -- first of all, I think they should not go after this guy. He walked away peacefully.

But putting that aside, isn't the real answer -- for example, if you have a 19-year-old exchange student from Yemen, which is I think the example used in The Washington Times in their editorial -- should we spend more time looking at him than a 90-year-old grandmother?

PERINO: Well, I think it's a very difficult question to answer, Sean.

HANNITY: Why is that difficult?

PERINO: Because look in Iraq, for example. And I'm not saying this could actually happen on an airplane. But one of the things that the terrorists had done was drugged and paid mentally retarded women that blew up 80 people in a marketplace. And so you have to ask yourself, you know, at what point do you profile? And imagine the outrage in the country if --

HANNITY: And it's worked for El Al. It worked for -- it seems to work for Israel and Great Britain, though.

PERINO: That's true, and that's why I think that there -- we could have a discussion about it, but I think we have to be careful before we go down that road.

VARNEY: Yes, but the pressure is mounting. The outrage is there. The revolt is in full process. And something is going to have to happen here.

PERINO: Well, I think something will happen.

VARNEY: We've got to turn away from the system we're using. But, you know, Dana --

PERINO: I actually think one of the things that could happen is private sector investment into great new technologies that can get us through the airport security lines faster and keep us safe. [retrieved from the Nexis database]

RedState calls for “using targeted security measures, based on actual suspicion and clues.” In a November 15 post on the blog RedState, Lori Ziganto called for using racial profiling similar to the Israeli system:

You see, because we must tolerate those who wish to kill us, we cannot offend them. We cannot be perceived to be singling out a certain group. We must, therefore, waste time and resources using terrorism countermeasures against, you know, NON-terrorists. And we are to pretend that 90-year-old grandmas from Nebraska flew planes into buildings on September 11th. Or that three-year-old girls strapped bombs to their shoes or in their underwear.


Hey, you know what would actually be for our own good? I'm no Janet Napolitano (thank goodness), but it seems to me that we should try out that whole using targeted security measures, based on actual suspicion and clues, like they do in Israel. Oh, silly me. That would mean acknowledging that it is a specific radicalized group of people who wants to kill us and not tea partiers. And it might even entail mentioning the word Islam. Oh, the horror.

Wash. Times: “TSA believes an 80-year-old grandmother deserves the same level of scrutiny at an airport terminal checkpoint as a 19-year-old male exchange student from Yemen.” In a November 15 editorial, The Washington Times called on the TSA to use the type of profiling used by the Israeli airline El Al:

The Transportation Security Administration's demeaning new “enhanced pat-down” procedures are a direct result of the Obama administration's willful blindness to the threat from Islamic radicals. While better tools are available to keep air travelers safe, they would involve recognizing the threat for what it is, which is something the White House will never do.


The Israelis have achieved this track record of safety by employing sophisticated intelligence analysis which allows them to predict which travelers constitute a possible threat and which do not. Resources are then focused on the more probable threats with minimal intrusion on those who are likely not to be terrorists.

Here in the United States, these sophisticated techniques have roundly been denounced as discriminatory “profiling.” Allegedly postracial America has been unable to come to grips with the difference between immoral and illegal racial discrimination and the prudent use of the types of techniques that police on the beat use every day, which is similar to practices the customs service applies to assessing which packages being sent into the country are licit and which were sent by smugglers. TSA believes an 80-year-old grandmother deserves the same level of scrutiny at an airport terminal checkpoint as a 19-year-old male exchange student from Yemen. This policy not only is a waste of time and resources, it denies reality.

Right-wing media previously demanded profiling of Muslims

Christmas Day bombing attempt set off right-wing calls for profiling. As Media Matters documented, right-wing media figures including Coulter, Brian Kilmeade, and Mike Gallagher demanded profiling of Muslims in the wake of the failed attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to detonate an explosive on an airliner on December 25, 2009.