Why The ‘Troubled Past’ of the Doctor Abused By United Airlines Is Totally Irrelevant

The craziest story of the week just got crazier.

On Sunday evening, when Chicago Aviation Security Officers dragged 69-year-old Dr. David Dao off of a United Airlines flight, they did so because he refused to voluntarily give up his seat on a flight home to Kentucky.

Not because he was once “convicted of trading drugs for sex.” Not because he has a “troubled past.” And not because of his “criminal record.”

And yet, all of those topics have been covered by media outlets eager to snag a morsel of the traffic this story is generating.

It’s shameful but it’s not without precedent. Dredging up irrelevant personal details about the victims of police brutality is a favorite pastime among a certain sort. It provides a way to explain away the abuse of those in authority and makes the public question wether the victim deserved it.

In Dao’s case, there’s simply no argument that his past crimes are relevant. He was arrested in 2003 for trading drugs for sex. In 2004, he was convicted of “obtaining drugs by fraud and deceit.” He would eventually lose his medical license, but gain it back, at least in part, in 2015.

What does any of this have to do with anything that happened on the plane? About as much as the fact that Dao is a poker maven with nearly a quarter million in winnings. The Louisville journalist who first reported Dao’s criminal record tried to justify her story, saying she was “identifying who he is for the public.”

But using his criminal history to identify him is a problem. It shifts the responsibility for his abuse from the perpetrators to himself. Aren’t the previous wrongdoings of the Chicago police more relevant? Isn’t the history of United mistreating customers more to the point?

Instead, it’s Dao’s history that’s gotten more attention, emboldening those inclined to blame him for what happened.


When you’re writing stories that please this sort, it’s probably time to go back to the drawing board.