Why The United Passenger's "Troubled Past" Doesn't Matter

by Cate Carrejo
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The United Airlines incident this week has most people up in arms against the victimized passenger. Unfortunately, not everyone was viewing the incident from his perspective. The Courier-Journal, a local newspaper in Louisville, Kentucky, published a story Tuesday morning detailing crimes that David Dao allegedly committed over 10 years ago. This angle is counterproductive and irrelevant, as it has been in previous, similar incidents. The United Airlines passenger's past doesn't matter, because the blame here is squarely on the airline, not on Dao.

Regardless of whether the claims against Dao are true, there are key reasons they should not have been published. According to The Courier-Journal, Dao was convicted for convicted for writing fraudulent prescriptions in 2005. There could be important mitigating circumstances that were left out of the story, but it doesn't seem like Dao was given the chance to tell his side of the story, though an updated version of the story stated that the Dao family has asked for privacy and is not making statements to the media.

Second, Dao served his sentence, which means you shouldn't have to carry around the label of "criminal" for the rest of your life — especially if you later become the victim of violence, as Dao did. He gave up his medical license for 10 years and participated in court-ordered probation. The Courier-Journal reported that he's been practicing medicine again for the last two years, seemingly without any incidents. A relatively minor crime committed over a decade ago shouldn't define a person, especially if they lived with the consequences and have rededicated themselves to helping others.

But finally, and most importantly, it has absolutely zero relevance to the matter at hand. Dao's past indiscretions have nothing to do with the unfair treatment he received at the hands of United — he didn't deserve to be beaten and dragged off a plane just because he committed a crime 12 years ago.

There seems to be this repeating pattern of blaming people of color when they are discriminated against — it happened with Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile, just to name a few. While those incidents ended with much more tragic results, they all still served to devalue their experiences and lives. Reporting Dao's past does nothing but vilify him and distract people from the real issue here — that United's policy led to a violent and abusive incident that should have been avoided on multiple levels.

In an interview with The New Republic, the paper's executive editor Joel Christopher defended the decision to run the piece, saying: "I think there are a lot of people who are being stoked by the social media mob mentality ... It's easy to get outraged. It's a little bit harder to do some homework on the topic before you tweet out an opinion."

The Courier-Journal's article added nothing constructive to the national conversation around this incident, and especially in this era of anti-journalistic sentiment, it's crucial that outlets report what truly needs to be reported. I'd argue that Dao was already victimized by United, and he doesn't deserve to be victimized by the media as well.