The media is publicly shaming the United Airlines victim. That’s not OK.

David Dao United Airlines
Wilson Belshaw

United Airlines was criticised this week for the forceful removal of a passenger. And since then, several media outlets have been accused of releasing information about the victim which falls outside public interest.

The incident

David Dao was asked to give up his seat so that priority airline staff could be seated. When Dao refused, he was forcibly removed and injured. A video of the event was uncomfortable to watch, and went viral all over the world:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfB28wQs8uQ

Following the incident, United Airlines released multiple statements. The company’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, also sent a letter to his employees which seemed to blame the victim. From said letter:

While the facts and circumstances are still evolving, especially with respect to why this customer defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers the way he did, to give you a clearer picture of what transpired, I’ve included below a recap from the preliminary reports filed by our employees.

As you will read, this situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help

Digging dirt

Several outlets have since published articles detailing historical information about the victim. If these reports prove to be accurate, then David Dao has a well-documented criminal past. But people have criticised the publication of this information. Because none of what’s been revealed has anything to do with the United Airlines incident. And people are arguing that being physically manhandled does not give the media license to expose a victim’s entire history:

The US concept of what’s in the ‘public interest’ has traditionally been less stringent than in the UK. Although US enforcement of libel laws does seem to have recently hardened. Most noticeably as the site Gawker was sued for $140m after it published a sex tape of Hulk Hogan. This is despite Gawker having routinely published stories which we would consider to be outside of the public interest.

It’s hard to argue that Dao’s past has any relevance to what happened to him, though. It’s also worth putting yourself in his position. To imagine being humiliated and beaten, and then having all of your worst moments brought into the public domain as a result. And if you feel like you wouldn’t want that for yourself, then logically you should be against it happening to others.

NOTE: There is a rumour online that the David Dao on the flight is not the same David Dao with the criminal record. We were not able to verify that at the time of publishing.

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