People are rallying around the passenger who was forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight on Sunday, in response to what many see as attempts to vilify a victim.
On Tuesday, the Louisville Courier-Journal published an article reporting that the passenger, David Dao, “has a troubled history in Kentucky.” The article cites past drug-related felonies in the early 2000s, noting that the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure allowed Dao to resume practicing medicine in 2015.
Soon after the article published, many people took to social media to criticize the Courier-Journal for seemingly attempting to justify an incident in which Dao was dragged from United Express Flight 3411 by law enforcement officers. Dao suffered injuries to his face, and was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
HEY AMERICA: Don’t let anything happen to you ever that might go viral because someone will dig through your past looking to discredit you https://t.co/cjN2BwTPFn
— Adam Sternbergh (@sternbergh) April 11, 2017
— Scott Menor (@smenor) April 11, 2017
you know who also has a troubled past? the chicago police department https://t.co/1q71lNGHc1
— Paul Blest (@pblest) April 11, 2017
“Reporting this about the man United assaulted are not relevant to what happened & suggest a misunderstanding of the US legal system,” media analyst Racheline Maltese wrote in a series of tweets arguing that reporting on Dao’s past fails to offer proper context.
Many people saw the article on Dao’s “troubled past” as part of a wider trend of reporting that blames victims and frames corporate or police behavior as justifiable.
— Joel (@JoelNihlean) April 11, 2017
“he was no angel” attack on a minority victim who could have seen this coming https://t.co/yT3cACqkkX
— darth:™ (@darth) April 11, 2017
In recent years, publications have faced backlash for highlighting victims’ — especially minority victims — “troubled pasts” in coverage of police shootings. For example, the New York Times was criticized for reporting in 2014 that Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old killed by a police officer in a Ferguson, Missouri, was “no angel.”
#BREAKING United Airlines has troubled past, ties to 9/11 attacks
— Pixelated Boat (@pixelatedboat) April 11, 2017
imagine your local paper airing your most embarrassing secrets because a multibillion dollar corporation kicked the shit out of you pic.twitter.com/t6qaYurMIW
— josh terry (@JoshhTerry) April 11, 2017
United’s CEO Oscar Munoz explained the incident by saying that gate agents were “left with no choice but to call Chicago Aviation Security Officers” after Dao became “disruptive and belligerent” when asked the leave the flight. According to Munoz, Dao had raised his voice and refused to leave when the aircraft when gate agents told him he had to leave due to an overbooked flight.
Response to Munoz and United’s actions following the incident has been widely negative.
that guy I just tried to mug was ‘belligerent’ https://t.co/zN3qqiiykl
— Tom Tomorrow (@tomtomorrow) April 11, 2017
#NewUnitedAirlinesMottos We will beat you for paying and showing up for the flight, and we will also call you “disruptive and belligerent”
— Roberta Frossard (@R_Frossard) April 11, 2017
.@United‘s CEO says the passenger they removed was “belligerent”. Well done. That’s how to handle a PR storm. Blame the passenger…
— Edward Hardy (@EdwardTHardy) April 11, 2017