Newspapers dig for dirt in background of United passenger

The story about a man dragged off a United Airlines flight yesterday has now reached its “let’s dredge up his criminal history” phase.

The Louisville Courier-Journal does the honors today with a deep dive into the life of David Dao, the passenger who said he was a doctor who had to get home to see his patients.

He’s a doctor, true. But he lost his medical license once because of fraud involving prescription drugs.

Dao, who went to medical school in Vietnam in the 1970s before moving to the U.S., was working as a pulmonologist in Elizabethtown when he was arrested in 2003 and eventually convicted of drug-related offenses after an undercover investigation, according to documents filed with the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure last June. The 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.

Dao was convicted of multiple felony counts of obtaining drugs by fraud or deceit in November 2004 and was placed on five years of supervised probation in January 2005. He surrendered his medical license the next month.

The Daily Mail also looked at his past and, unlike the Courier-Journal, left his criminal history out. And, unlike the Courier-Journal, put his family life in. can reveal Dr Dao is a father of five and a grandfather, who specializes in internal medicine. Four of his five children are doctors.

His wife Teresa, 69, is a pediatrican who trained at Ho Chi Minh University in Saigon and also practices in Elizabethtown, Kentucky – about 40 miles south of Louisville.

Their eldest son Tim, 34, practices medicine in Texas; their second son Ben, 31, is a medical graduate; their daughter Christine, 33, is a doctor in Durham, NC; and their youngster daughter Angela, 27, is a medical graduate of the University of Kentucky. takes an even deeper dive into his past, including allegations that he paid off a former co-worker to keep him from telling his wife about alleged unwanted sexual advances.

Bottom line? They dig for dirt. If you’ve got a past you don’t want dredged up, get off the plane.

  • BReynolds33

    I wonder when we get the run down of everything the three cops have done wrong in their lives. And the criminal history of the United employees who thought it necessary to use violence to remove a passenger.

    I mean, we have his history, let’s get all of the details. Then we can really decide what the facts are based on the emotions we feel about their personal stories.

  • MrE85

    I sometimes have an irrational fear of what photo the media would use if somehow I became the subject of the headlines.

    • tboom

      Perhaps my fear is more rational than yours, depends on how far into the past they go.

  • Neil

    Missing from the Courier-Journal story is how this is relevant to the incident. Which, of course, it isn’t. Which, of course, is why it’s garbage.

    • I don’t know. As I made the coffee this morning, the thought occured to me, “how do we know this guy is really a doctor?”

      “If your mother says she loves you, check it out” is still a good axiom for journalism, even if sometimes the answer is “no”.

      • Neil

        Is he a doctor is a totally legit question – no doubt. He brought it up as to why he had to stay on the flight. (Though even if he lied about it, he was still treated terribly.) His criminal past has nothing to do with anything.

        • //His criminal past has nothing to do with anything.

          It doesn’t have to do with anything that happened on the plane. It DOES have to do with the question of “who is this guy?”

          That’s a legit question, particularly since the 5 W’s/1 H is the bedrock of a story.

          • Neil

            Disagree. First of all, it’s only one of the W’s. Secondly, who he is does not justify or explain how he was treated.

          • // , it’s only one of the W’s.

            Right. And that’s the job.

            // Secondly, who he is does not justify or explain how he was treated.

            That’s not the role of “who”. That’s the role of “what” and “why”.

            And justifying isn’t part of journalism at all.

          • Neil

            Maybe, if you assume that “who is this guy” can be answered by a public records search.

            And that the what and why should be separated from the who.

          • I’ve already responded to that. No, of course , that’s not the complete picture of who he is and, as I said, I’ve already answered that question in response to Jeff. But, yeah, the piece read like a day on the Internet.

          • Neil

            Probably not even a day. I used to do this sort of research at a local rag. Reasonable minds can (apparently) disagree, but I think this is a we-can-but-we-shouldn’t situation. At a minimum, it should be part of a more comprehensive story.

            Though even that feels pretty gross.

          • I think that’s a legitimate editorial question. If you’re going to go down the path of identifying someone in the news, you either go all in or go all out.

        • jon


          First article says “The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure permitted Dao to resume practicing medicine in 2015 under certain conditions.”

          So presumably he is a doctor, even if it is on a limited licensure…

          • Neil

            Right. But even if he had lied, he was treated horribly.

      • Jeff C.

        I was wondering the same thing yesterday and I”m not surprised that someone answered the question. I hope that people don’t allow the fact that he used his former profession as a reason why he shouldn’t be “reaccommodated” to overshadow that he shouldn’t have been treated the way he was treated by the airline or the police.

  • MikeB

    I’d like to hear the editor’s reasoning for this type of story, other than habit. There is no link behind his history and how he was treated by United. If he had a history of being kicked off flights, then yes, that is relevant.

    The police force in question has a history. Will we see an article about that soon, tying in the United fiasco? We will see stories written about the personal histories of everyone involved in this story, including those who wrote and edited it? What about those who used their cameras to record what happened, what’s in their background?

  • Jeff C.

    How are these details relevant to the story? If they aren’t relevant, shouldn’t they be off-limit? Bob – if you were the editor and a writer came to you with these details in a story, what would you do?

    • I think the Journal Courier was negligent in deciding that only his criminal past tells the story of who he is. The Mirror is negligent in deciding that only his family tells the story of who he is.

      Who is this guy is a legit exercise as a second-day lede. But cherry picking is a questionable standard of performance.

      BTW, his background as a doctor is a legit angle because he invoked his profession during the confrontation.

  • Lobd

    All of us, even those with a criminal past, deserve to be treated with dignity.

    • Anna


    • Melissa Hansen

      100% agree, and all his past is beside the point. He is still a human.

  • Mike

    This sort of coverage is an example of why people hate the media so much, and it shows why the notion of a “liberal media” is such a myth. Given that none of this is relevant to the man’s mistreatment by authorities, it’s just cheap character assassination. Moreover, it serves to reinforce a certain narrative: when people are abused by corporations or government, it’s because they somehow deserve it for not being perfect.

    You can usually depend on mainstream media to imply guilt where there is none, to place blame in a passive-aggressive way on innocent people, etc., as long as it serves the interests of the powerful.

    • TBird73

      So, his state of mind and his previous interactions with police when he refused to comply with a police order are completely irrelevant? Right.

      • Mike

        What previous interactions? No previous interactions with police are mentioned in the Courier-Journal article, only his past history related to drug offenses.

        Do you believe that an airline should be able to forcibly remove you from a seat you paid for, just because it wants to fly another passenger? If so, congratulations – you’re an obediant servant of their profit margin. I hope you’re getting a dividend for your allegiance.

        • TBird73

          Really? He was arrested on hundreds of felony drug charges and spent two years in jail. He was caught in a sting in a hotel with the help of one of his patients. Do you believe that all happened without the police? Good lord.

          And no, it was not “another passenger”. It was the crew for another flight. Without which, an entire plane load of people would go nowhere. Jeez. Congratulations on having no grip on reality.

          • Calm down, fellas. We don’t do insults here. Make your points rationally.

          • Mike

            “Hundreds”? Where do you get that? If United wants or needs to fly their crew so badly, then they can keep offering sweeter incentives. Eventually, someone will bite. They didn’t want to do that because it cuts into their profit margin. That’s their problem, not the problem of the person who bought a seat.

            Did they offer to pay for a rental car for him to drive to Louisville? Not that I’ve seen in the coverage. That’s another solution that could have been offered.

            As for having no grip on reality, apparently you don’t understand how corporations work.

          • TBird73

            I guess I’ve decided to research the issue rather than just jump to a conclusion. That’s where I heard that. Or, I don’t know, click on the links provided in the article. But I guess that’s too hard.

          • Mike

            The Courier-Journal article says he was convicted on “multiple” accounts of obtaining drugs illegally. That’s not the same as “hundreds”.

            Moreover, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the incident on the plane.

          • TBird73

            Wow, this took all of 10 seconds to find. By the way, the 98 counts were not all of the counts.


          • 98 counts.

          • He didn’t spend two years in jail, as you asserted. The sentence was suspended.

          • TBird73

            “Some of those charges ended up being dismissed, but Dao was eventually convicted on six counts. He was found guilty of complicity in obtaining a controlled substance (hydrocodone) by fraud and sentenced to two years, eight months in prison, a sentence that was suspended, and was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine. ”
            You are correct. I misread that.

          • No worries.

          • When did “multiple felony counts” turn into “hundreds of felony drug charges”?

      • Seemed to me when looking at those videos, that this was a guy who’s experienced some trauma in the past, somehow, somewhere.

  • Gary F

    Just think if the media put that much effort investigating Susan Rice.

    • Rob

      After T.Rump’s ties to Russia are thoroughly investigated, maybe the media will have time to look at the Rice situation. And, oh, I almost forgot – BINGO!

  • The tone of this story reeks of victim blaming. “Bottom line? If you’ve got a past you don’t want dredged up, get off the plane” reads as defense of United’s abhorrent policy. Well below the standards of what I expect from MPR.

    • // reads as defense of United’s abhorrent policy. Well below the standards of what I expect from MPR.

      First time here? If so you should know that if I wanted to defend United’s abhorrent policy, you wouldn’t have to read between the lines to try to find it.

      I’m not from here.

    • TBird73

      //United’s abhorrent policy.
      Um, try federal law and the Contract of Carriage you agree to when you buy a ticket. Don’t like it? Change the law.

      • Ryan Johnson

        Near as I can tell, the contract of carriage only refers to denial of boarding on overbooked flights. To me that means once you are on the plane, past the gate, they don’t have the right to remove you without some other cause. Then again, the interpretation of volunteer in their corporate statement was different from mine as well.

    • Meghan

      I read this line as very sarcastic.

  • KTFoley

    It seems to me that the real message of this dynamic is that if you expect any kind of recourse for wrongs, then your only hope is to be a perfect citizen in every way at all times.

    The fact that it’s common doesn’t make it any less problematic.

    • Ben

      Good point.

  • John

    MPR just lost a reader publishing this gross article. Bob Collins, I pity you and your lowbrow journalism.

    • Well, I suppose that’s your choice. Or you can rationally talk about it analyze it and have a conversation. But, again, you do what you need to do.

    • Will

      It’s trying to make you think about what’s right, wrong or useful or not. I prefer all information to fully understand an issue or person so all of it matters in my mind. That’s the world we live in today.

  • So, does anybody else find it insightful and impressive that all of his children are doctors?

    • Laurie K.

      I did not necessarily find it insightful, interesting, but it did not provide anything as far as understanding what happened on Sunday.

      • Right. But it wasn’t supposed to. It was to answer the question “who is this person?”

        Answering that question is part of the job.

        But answering it completely is also part of the job. The Courier-Journal needed an editor to say “this isn’t the whole story of who this guy is.”

        • Laurie K.

          True. It does say to me that this man is more than his criminal record, but then, I have always felt that way about most people with criminal records, so maybe it is just my bias showing.

    • Will

      Yes, I think it does show the kids had solid support from the parents to make it through such a rigorous education program.

  • jon

    “medical school in Vietnam in the 1970s before moving to the U.S.”

    Someone said last time around that they suspected PTSD from one of the video after he returned on to the plane…
    Vietnam in the 70’s seems like a reasonable place to pick up PTSD…
    Also seems like a good place/reason to pick up a drug habit.

    More than a few of the soldiers we sent over there got both while they were stationed in vietnam.

    How different would this story read if he was a veteran of the vietnam war instead of a refugee/migrant (didn’t find a reason for the move)?

    Would we talk about his drug charges the same? Or would we say the system failed him rather than list his criminal history?

    Edit: Last article bob posted says fled from vietnam, perhaps refugee is the most correct word then…
    Also notable which articles refer to him as “Dr. David Dao” or “Dr. Dao” vs. just “David Dao” or “Dao”.

    • // Also seems like a good place/reason to pick up a drug habit.

      I’m unaware of any allegations of having a drug habit.

      • jon

        That’s a my bad, I presumed “Drug charges” ment using not dealing.

  • gus

    All of this means very little compared to what his behavior was like on the plane. It would be good to hear from nearby passengers on that–not United or law enforcement. I have to say that if I had a reserved seat and the airline told me that I was their “volunteer” to leave, I would be very upset. Flying today is stressful and humiliating as it is. I will never fly United Airlines. I’ve experience poor customer service from them in the past but this tops it all.

    • I kept waiting for some other passenger to stand up and say, “just stop. This isn’t right. *I’ll* take the deal and you can have my seat.” Never happened.

      Curious: What would you folks do if you were a passenger on the flight?

      • mnanimator

        I’d love to think that I would’ve said/done something more than just sit there, but there’s no way to know with something like that. Now that I’ve seen it and it’s part of my awareness, I might be more likely to have the presence of mind to “do” something should it ever be something I’m witness to, but I think it’s impossible to say, truthfully, what you “know” you’d do.

      • seedhub

        Unless you happened to be sitting right next to Mr. Dao, it’s unlikely you’d know enough about what was going on to take any action, whatever it might be.

      • Will

        It honestly depends, if I had to get back due to other obligations then I’d stay on the plane…If I’m going on vacation where it’s just not a big deal or flying home after a work trip or vacation then I’d give up the seat…If someone says they’re a doctor and needs to treat patients then I’d be more willing to get up even if I really need to get back.

        We really don’t know until we get in that situation.

      • Laurie K.

        I think I likely would have done the same as the fellow passengers of Mr. Dao did, sat in stunned silence asking myself “is this really happening?” and then protested verbally about the way in which Mr. Dao was being manhandled. I would like to think I would have done something more, but given that I was unable to fathom what I was seeing when it was presented in a video after the fact, I would imagine that my reaction would have been no different than the passengers on that flight. Also, frankly, I believe that even had one of the passengers spoken up, at the point that the officer became physical, I doubt that law enforcement would have backed off. I believe that Mr. Dao still would not have been allowed to remain on that plane.

  • Angry in Eden Prairie

    Bob / MPR, you call this news? Regardless of his past, the.guy was physically dragged off the plane. It was excessive, inappropriate, and unnecessary. Perhaps it is somehow “ok” for this to happen because he doesn’t have a squeaky clean past? How about you, Bob – shall we dig into your background now and share it with the airlines so they can decide if you even get to board their plane if your past isn’t up to their standards? Why not report on how airlimes continue to o ebook flights you know the supposed reason behind why this guy was tossed?

    Also, what happened to unbiased news reporting? Your last.comment is opinion, nothing more. Keep it out of the “news” please.


    • Bob Sinclair

      This is not a news report. It is a blog on the news. Its “job” is not to find the 5ws/1h but to comment/ and have others comment on the news as he sees fit. As it says at the top: “Reflections and observations on the news”. Please respect that as you peruse this blog.

      • That also explains how the sausage gets made.

    • // Perhaps it is somehow “ok” for this to happen because he doesn’t have a squeaky clean past?

      No, it’s not OK for it to happen. And you’re engaging in sort of a typical anonymous Internet commenting tactic that substitutes heat for light. In this case, the strawman argument. Nowhere over two days, have I said that the gentleman’s past justifies an action. Nor have I excused the action,

      What I’ve pointed out that in order to answer the 5W’s/1H of journalism — and you can complain if you want that there is a 5W/1H of journalism, but it’s been the bedrock of journalism since before you were born — there is the little matter of “who.”

      Once you go down that path, you’re pretty well committed to telling the whole story and not covering it up.

      If I end up a new story, and there’s a question to be answered about who I am, I would expect nothing less than an accurate inclusion of background.

      If you go back and read, you’ll see that I pointed out the Courier-Journal was negligent in their approach to answering a legitimate question: Who?

      I’m sorry if that makes you angry but keeping you happy isn’t really the job.

      Now, what is it you’d like to know about my past?

  • TBird73
    • I knew there was something wrong when the British tabloid didn’t go with the dirt.

  • Marc A

    Reaching into the background of Dao, whether to paint a positive or negative portrait of him, is yellow journalism of the worst sort. The only exception would be if the United Airlines employees did a background search on the passengers before they “randomly” selected him as one of the four for removal. If he was, in fact, randomly selected and no background information was used in the process of what possible use is that information post facto?

    We supposedly have a free market. Why did United not just keep increasing the offer for people to deplane? Maybe $1,000 or even $2,000 might have worked which would seem less than the cost to United of having to cancel the flight for which they were deplaning the people to shuttle the crew needed to conduct the later flight.

    • How Dao was selected and who Dao is are two entirely separate things.

      // whether to paint a positive or negative portrait of him, is yellow journalism of the worst sort

      In other words , painting ANY portrait of him — basically providing information on who he is — is yellow journalism. I’d like to some justification for the assertion because that’s exactly opposite the ingredients of any legit news story. “Who”.

      What is over-the-top is that the assertion that providing a COMPLETE answer to that question somehow justifies his being abused.

      That test doesn’t survive any test of journalism, whose responsibility is to provide you with a complete picture of the “who.” The only alternative is to not use names at all.

      Don’t get me wrong — since I’ve already pointed this out a dozen times, you shouldn’t — I think turning this into a story of a guy who sold drugs for sex in appropriate … it doesn’t paint a full picture.

      Far from being yellow journalism, these are complicated editorial questions.

      There’s a similar story underway now with the S-town podcast. Hailed — I noted by many of the same people “tsk tsking ” this story, by the way — by journalists and This American Life fans alike — it violates the privacy of a person who wasn’t in the news and didn’t invite the reporter into his past sex life before he killed himself — and exposes it. I could make a much better argument for walking away from that story because the subject (a) is dead and (b) wasn’t part of a new story.

      I get it. The temptation is quick to dismiss the journalistic integrity of people whose job it is to answer the 5W/1H. We hear it all the time. We heard it when Prince died and people said it was yellow journalism to reveal that he was addicted.

      But in almost every case, it’s the principles of journalism that are being upheld, it’s just ugly and sad.

      • Marc A

        Who he is has no bearing on the removal and the method used. I understand the desire to add color to increase readership but in this instance it deflects from story. Do you think that digging up unflattering information on the three people murdered in St Paul in the domestic shooting that just occurred or on the poor teacher killed by her husband in CA is news? Fuller information on the perpetrators might help us understand the crime but not the victims.

        Who, what, where, when, why, and how in this incident do not require any background on the passenger other than he was revenue ticketed and perhaps his name.

  • Laurence Stevenson

    Apparently, the return of his medical license came with conditions. If he had to be in a certain place at a certain time the next day, it would definitely explain his reluctance to give up his seat.

  • Krista

    At the end of the day, this man was treated wrong! End of story!! I do not care about what he did in his past! If he isn’t a suspect who threatens the safety of the plane, the people, or our country – what does his past have to do with anything?!!!

    Just how far would some media outlets go to dig something up about me… My traffic tickets? Oh, how about me getting fired from a job for not enough calls per hour? Or how about my bad credit that I once had!! Who cares?!!!! If they can’t find anything sensational about me, would they turn to my family members? Or friends? Enough!!!

    • //what does his past have to do with anything?!!!

      Asked and answered. Multiple times. No need to repeat it.

      //Just how far would some media outlets go to dig something up about me… My traffic tickets?

      It depends. Did all your kids become doctors? I can see where that would be part of a story identifying who you are. Did you practice medicine in a prison until a prisoner tried to strangle you with your own stethoscope? I can see where that would be in a story too. Did you once kill someone in a traffic accident when you were a teenager? Maybe.

      It all depends.

      What you shouldn’t anticipate — or accept — is when any of that is presented in lurid details soley for entertainment, inflicting an undue harm. You should expect that “who’s Krista?” would be answered fairly and completely and intelligently.

      // I do not care about what he did in his past!

      And yet, despite you not caring, you clicked on a story that clearly was about how newspapers were digging for dirt on the guy.

  • SLP

    Studied medicine in Vietnam in 1970….maybe some ptsd factoring into his response to being manhandled. He could very well of witnessed/faced trauma from the war. The lack of human compassion of some of the people on this board is troubling.

  • Tzv357

    You seriously think this is going to stop what’s going to ram up united Airlines ass’s? This is not even a good enough excuse to do what they did… congressional hearing will be held and I’m sure united airline sure don’t want their past being dug up… there’s probably more skeleton in the closet than that doctor ever have…

  • MA Dawson

    I hate how the trend now is to tirn victims into villans. What a shame. We as passangers also have rights. They should be protected.

  • Tom LaVenture

    It’s one thing to confirm that the man is who he says he is but unless he has a history of inciting violence in public transportation then this has no relevance. It is one thing to bring this history up as a footnote to a larger article but I bet this information wasn’t left out of other news articles in order to place Dr. Dao in the best possible light — much like MPR did for Sec. of State Clinton all throughout the recent presidential campaign. To say his background had something to do with what happened is like blaming the victim for being raped.

    • All well stated except your falsehood at your conclusion that I said his background had something to do with what happened. Nowhere have I said such a thing. Nowhere.

      What I said, and perhaps you missed it, is his background is relevant to the “who” aspect of the 5W/1H

      I also agree that his criminal background is not the story o who he is, at least not any more important than the rest of his journey. I said that too. Dozens of times.

      Sorry your candidate lost. The fact she did might be the most irrelevant component of today’s story and I didn’t cover the campaign.

      One tip for you: Don’t compare things to rape. It’s like Spicer trying to compare things to Hitler. Getting thrown off a plane, even getting dragged off a plane, even writing anything about a guy getting thrown off a plane isn’t comparable in any way to any scenario or hypothetical involving rape and it’s a particularly inappropriate rhetorical tool for a guy. Pick anything else. Any other victim of any other crime. Not rape, though. It’s a “thing” with me.