The violent removal of Dr. David Dao by Chicago police officers from a United Airlines flight on Sunday has been universally condemned. But for the Louisville Courier-Journal, Dao’s plight was a chance to unearth some entirely unrelated, though still salacious, details about his past.
Under the headline, “David Dao, passenger removed from United flight, a doctor with troubled past,” the C-J painted Dao as a shady foreigner (“..who went to medical school in Vietnam...”) with several convictions for illegally obtaining and prescribing drugs over the past decade and a half. In 2005, Dao reportedly surrendered his medical license, and was given permission to begin practicing medicine again under unspecified conditions in 2015.
What does this have to do with getting the shit kicked out of him by a cop for not “volunteering” to leave his ticketed seat? Nothing. But as we’ve seen time and time again, this sort of “he was no angel” framing has been used to imply a sort of moral parity between a person’s past behavior and their unrelated brutalization at the hands of the police. And the Courier-Journal’s dubious scoop sure landed with some people, like NBC News’ Bradd Jaffy, who tweeted excitedly, “you might say the other shoe has dropped.” Or, you might not.
Also, the framing of Dao as a criminal foreigner lends itself to a long history of demonizing Asians in the United States—a racist “yellow peril” trope that’s popped up in everything from war propaganda to law enforcement.
That Dao had his run-ins with police in the past is irrelevant to the fact that cops bloodied him for not getting off a flight—pure and simple.
UPDATE: Faced with an onslaught of criticism from, well, pretty much everyone, Joel Christopher, the Courier-Journal’s executive editor, defended his paper’s coverage of Dao’s past, telling The New Republic:
“There’s been previous coverage of the guy. That’s how people in the newsroom knew who he was. It was a fairly high-profile case. It was a case that stuck in people’s minds because it was high-profile.”
I think there are a lot of people who are being stoked by the social media mob mentality,” Christoper added. “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 reporter who wrote the piece also insisted she’d done nothing wrong, tweeting that her story wasn’t meant “to justify” Dao’s assault—simply to inform.
Intent aside, the Courier—Journal’s coverage seems to have opened the way for at least one more media exposé on Dao’s past—this time on television!
Great job, everyone.