Reports Of United Passenger's 'Troubled Past' Points To America's Troubled Present

It didn’t take long for the media to dig into the past of the United passenger who was violently removed from his flight last Sunday in order to justify the airline’s actions. We’ve all seen the video of Dr. Dao being dragged off a plane after the airline’s mismanagement left four of its crew members without a flight to Louisville. The passenger, Dr. David Dao, is a 69-year old Asian man who refused to get off his paid seat because he said he needed to get back to his patients.

The reports of Dr. Dao’s past is just the latest media attempt to turn a non-white victim into a feared criminal. The fact that producers and editors at the Louisville Courier-Journal and ABC 7 News San Francisco decided to report on Dr. Dao’s 10-year-old conviction says more about America’s troubled present than it does about Dr. Dao’s character.

ABC reporter’s tweet of “doctor pulled off United”
ABC reporter’s tweet of “doctor pulled off United”

Dr. Dao’s past is completely irrelevant to the way he was violently mistreated by the airline and Chicago aviation police, and yet ABC 7 News reported, “The new information that Dao has felony convictions in his past does not come as a shock to some travelers.” Does not come as a shock? I wonder what about a 69-year-old’s appearance or demeanor leads someone to instinctively know he may have had a criminal conviction in the past.

We’ve seen the media’s biased reporting of Black and Latino victims of police brutality in the past, and the reporting of Dr. Dao’s previous conviction is more evidence that when it comes to nonwhite victims, the onus is on the victim not the perpetrator.

In 2014, the New York Times called Michael Brown, a black teenager shot and killed by a white Ferguson police officer, “no angel.” The report went on to describe Brown’s life of promise and trouble, but aren’t we all imperfect human beings? And why does someone’s past matter when it comes to being a victim of a crime? Where were the reports of the white officer’s past sins?

Recently, a 13-year-old Latino kid was dragged across a lawn by an off-duty LAPD officer, and many of the reports focused on what the kid did to provoke the officer. The off-duty LAPD officer shot a gun around a group of black and latino teenagers, and it was the 13-year-old Latino kid who was arrested. Time and time again, the media conducts character assassinations of minorities in a way that does not happen when white victims are involved.

The problem is not just racism in media reporting, the real problem is America’s culture of racism in every area of our society. The problem is not only that black protesters are called “thugs,” or Mexican immigrants “illegals,” or Asian doctors “troubled.” The problem extends to our criminal justice system where African Americans are six times more likely to be incarcerated. Despite the fact that five times as many whites use drugs, African Americans are sent to prison at ten times the rates of whites.

America’s troubled present with race relations begins with the media and the stereotypes they perpetuate. Some media outlets called out the Courier Journal and ABC 7 reporting and that is a step in the right direction.

We must continue to hold the media accountable because the impact of their reporting has consequences beyond how many people click on their catchy headlines.