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United Passenger Faces A Whole New, Ugly Round Of Victim-Blaming In Wake Of Violent Removal

By Stephen Gossett in News on Apr 11, 2017 4:36PM


Aside from being a horrifying episode in and of itself, the aftermath of United flight 3411—in which a man, now identified by the Courier Journal as David Dao, 69, was bloodied and forcibly removed from a flight at O'Hare International Airport after refusing to give up his seat
from the overbooked plane—was a master's class in exactly how not to handle the aftermath of such incidents.

Oscar Munoz, United Airlines CEO, apologized "for having to re-accommodate these customers"—but not for the overbooking that prompted the whole mess. No law enforcement agency seemed to want anything to do with the aftermath. Then Chicago police typed up an unofficial recap saying Dao "fell" and "his head subsequently struck an armrest causing injuries to his face," when it sure looked like he has some help in "falling"—even though it was aviation officers, not CPD, that were involved.

Things haven't gotten a whole lot better since Monday morning.

Ryan Ruggerio, Senior Assignment Desk Manager at CNBC, shared an email on Monday evening that was reportedly sent by CEO Oscar Munoz to fellow United employees. The victim-blaming defense again reads like a case study in the opposite of how one should approach the situation. Also note that Dao, a paying customer, was, um, asked to give up his seat for United crew members.

He wrote in part (emphasis ours):

"We sought volunteers and then followed our involuntary denial of boarding process (including offering up to $1,000 in compensation) and when we approached one of these passengers to explain apologetically that he was being denied boarding, he raised his voice and refused to comply with crew member instructions.

"He was approached a few more times after that in order to gain his compliance to come off the aircraft, and each time he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent."

"Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this," Munoz wrote. "While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right."

Now, as we're learning more about Dao, the emphasis is shifting from how he was treated by United and Chicago Department of Aviation officers (one officer was put on leave over the incident) to Dao's past. Dao, a Kentucky resident, gave up his medical license after being convicted of several counts related to illegally prescribing and trafficking painkillers, according to reports.

The Courier Journal wrote:

"As for Dao's history as a doctor in Kentucky, the medical licensure board documents allege that he was involved in fraudulent prescriptions for controlled substances and was sexually involved with a patient who used to work for his practice and assisted police in building a case against him.

As for the tabloids, the New York Post went with the New York Post-y "Doctor dragged off flight was convicted of trading drugs for sex." The Daily Mail chose "United passenger traded drugs for gay sex with patient." The framing of Dao's past and what some saw as a dirt dig quickly drew fire.

The Courier Journal came under fire itself, too. The writer of the report, Morgan Watkins, tweeted on Monday morning that she hoped to contact Dao "to get his side of the story." The fact that the resulting piece looked quite a bit different from that was not lost on media observers.

Think Progress chewed over the irony:

"While the [Courier Journal] piece sullies Dao, it doesn’t delve into the background of the CDA or Chicago Police Department (CPD). CDA officers were reportedly the only officers on the plane, but the CPD nonetheless saw fit to release a statement describing Dao as “irate” and “yelling.” The CPD’s statement attributes no blame to officers or the airline for the man’s injuries.

The Courier-Journal piece doesn’t mention that in the 10-year stretch between 2004 and 2014, the CPD paid out more than $500 million in brutality settlements and legal fees. Nor does it attempt to explain why the CDA placed one officer who was involved in the Dao incident on leave but not the other two who can be seen manhandling him in videos."

Meanwhile, United's stocks plunged into a nosedive on Tuesday morning, as the videos could cause also spell serious trouble for the airliner's Asian market. It'll be interesting to see how that turns out to be Dao's fault, too.

This post has been updated.