Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, son of GOP candidate Rep. Ron Paul, set off an alarm at the airport and was asked to go through a more detailed screening process before he would be allowed to head to his gate. He was inconvenienced and missed his flight. On its face, this is a run-of-the-mill incident that likely (and frustratingly) happens tons of times every day at airports across the country.
However, Rand Paul has a long-standing problem with the TSA and how it handles security procedure. He’s spoken openly and directly about how pat-downs in particular rob people of their “dignity” and treat everyone equally like a “criminal.” Sen. Paul isn’t alone in these feelings. And indeed, some of what’s going on at airport security is a waste. But basically, he walked into the situation with negative feelings about it.
Following today’s incident, one tweet, actually one word, blew things out of proportion.
Sen. Paul’s comms manager immediately went on Twitter to say that the Senator had been “detained,” a word that has all of the undignified criminality attached to it that Sen. Paul is against. And now the incident is being held up by his dad’s campaign as an example of the “police state” that we’re becoming.
One thing that all communicators and their clients must hang on tightly to is perspective. To be detained is to be arrested or otherwise kept in custody by the authorities.* That’s not what happened here. Media coverage now says he was stopped and after refusing the pat down he was escorted away and took a later flight. Moreover, in his interview with Wolf Blitzer on The Situation Room, Sen. Paul himself calls out more invasive and offensive incidents, for instance sick passengers made to go through humiliating searches, that sound much harsher than what he experienced today. His comments later in the interview show some restraint.
The TSA and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney stand by the actions taken today, so this is a debate that will continue. But we have enough people jumping into conversations with inflated words that don’t actually lead to fruitful discussions or solutions. We don’t need more of it.
*Note: We added the second part of that definition in response to a reader who thought we were using inflated words.
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