People are defending United passenger David Dao after reports emerge of his 'troubled past'

United Airlines man dragged off planeFacebook/Audra BridgesPolice dragging a passenger from his seat.

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 criticise 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. 

“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 behaviour as justifiable.

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 criticised for reporting in 2014 that Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old killed by a police officer in a Ferguson, Missouri, was “no angel.”

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. 

The Department of Transporation is currently reviewing the incident, and a police officer who was involved has been placed on leave. 

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