Journalism debate: United passenger’s past exposed

United Airlines passenger David Dao was forcibly removed from his flight — a flight he had booked and paid for — and became the subject of viral videos shortly thereafter.

But does that make him a public figure? That’s an important question to consider while judging whether journalists should dig into Dao’s life and publicize his past.

Two stories emerged Tuesday morning on Dao’s past.  A story by the Louisville Courier-Journal reported Dao, a doctor, has a “troubled history” with his medical practice. On TMZ, a much more salacious headline: “UNITED AIRLINES DOCTOR CONVICTED OF EXCHANGING DRUGS FOR SEX.”

Both reports say roughly the same thing, although the TMZ language is more blunt: Dao was arrested 14 years ago after writing fraudulent prescriptions for pain medication, and he “indicated he accepted sexual favors from an associate in exchange for reducing a debt that associate owed him.”

Dao was convicted of multiple felonies, was placed on five years of probation and lost his medical license for 10 years, the reports said.

Yes, Dao committed a crime — and that comes with consequences. But the public reporting on it is uncomfortable, particularly in the Courier-Journal’s case — because TMZ and newspapers should have different standards for what is newsworthy.

TMZ’s brand is to expose anything and everything if it has to do with the public record; the outlet is splashy and controversial and digs up the dirt. That’s how it’s been for years.

But newspapers have always had a mission to serve the public interest first, and, in theory, should carefully examine whether such stories are justified.

Remember, Dao didn’t ask to be in this spotlight — he just wanted to fly home. The reason for all the attention is because of how airlines treat passengers — not Dao specifically. So at a newspaper, editors should ask themselves: “Does this information help move the story forward? Does this serve our readers?”

I would argue publicizing Dao’s past does not do either of those things. Writing fraudulent prescriptions aren’t relevant to being physically dragged off an overbooked flight, and Dao isn’t the bad guy who deserves additional scrutiny — he’s the victim here.

Even if you think he should have obeyed authorities, United should have handled the situation better (how about increasing the amount of the voucher offers until some other passenger got off the plane? That would have been much cheaper for United than the bad publicity it’s getting now).

I’m not going to get outraged about TMZ’s reporting, because that’s been the TMZ style for years. But when newspapers follow that path, they risk damaging credibility with their readers while gaining a few thousand clicks — the kind of short-term thinking United now knows all too well.

Your turn: Readers chime in on Confederate flag controversy

The following is a sampling of letters I received Friday, unedited, in response to a column I wrote for USA TODAY about why NASCAR should ban the Confederate flag from its racetracks (you can read it here if you’re interested).

I’ve removed the names and email addresses, but otherwise the letters appear as they were sent (Warning: Strong language appears in some of the letters):

If you don’t want to see the flag, don’t go to the track, same for Brad. Take up NBA reporting.


Your byline says San Francisco,so I assume that you live in San Francisco. So, I understand that you cannot, and will not ever even try, to understand the “Heritage” emotions behind the Confederate Battle flag (or the “Rebel Flag” as the headline so prominently says).
Your dismissive attitude of NASCAR’s respect of the Constitutional Right to Freedom of Expression would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous. I realize that since the founder if USA Today died, your employer has bent itself far to the left on any and all issues of a political nature. But, can you tell me how that flag committed such a horrible crime in Charleston, SC? If that, sick, evil kid hadn’t posted pictures of himself online with the flag, would the mainstream media be pounding it’s drums to get rid of the flag? You know the answer to that is definitely “NO”. And, along that same line of thought, you must agree that the murderous kid is a very sick individual, right? How else could he do such a thing, just like the kid who shot up the elementary school or the guy who shot the female politician and so many others in Arizona? The thing is, those other murderers didn’t use the Confederate flag as a prop. And the Charleston murderer had an evil, hate-filled heart that led to his actions. But he would’ve committed his heinous crime regardless of whether he had a Confederate Battle flag or not. Any sane, clear-thinking individual knows this. And for you and other media and political types to compare this flag, which had basically disappeared from the social conscious, to the Nazi flag or the ISIL flag (come on, Jeff, our President doesn’t say “ISIS”) is sophomoric, at best, and extremely radical, at worst.

Pound your drums. What happened in Charleston is an outrage. But to lecture NASCAR and use Brad Daugherty as a mouthpiece to support your cause is a joke. When’s the last time you wrote about Brad Daugherty in a NASCAR piece? Do you not think that white Southern Rednecks, the last stereotype that’s ok to ridicule, weren’t much worse when Daugherty entered NASCAR? If he has such a problem with that flag, why did he get into NASCAR in the first place? The flag was certainly far more prevalent a decade ago.

You want it both ways, Jeff, but you can’t have it. USA Today will shout from the mountain top about Gay Rights and Muslim Rights and evil policemen but you won’t support, or at least you’ll quibble about, Constitutional rights? You’ll compare this flag to Nazis and ISIL, but who’s closest to burning books in this scenario? Jeff Gluck and USA Today, that’s who.


Give the whole USA to most blacks and they will burn it down.
I have many black friends and work with many also and they are good people.
just keep giving in to a few and the country will go to hell in a hand basket.
a lot of the problem is the news media.
Should USAtoday fire you because I don’t like what you write?
The flag is a flag. This is 2015 not the 1950 and 60s.


Will getting rid of the Confederate flag automagically get rid of racism and hate??? All this prohibiting and banning is Political Correctness run amok. Are we also going to ban/prohibit the Stars and Stripes because they represent oppression to the Native Americans and the Japanese-Americans? Why haven’t we banned the swastika, the Nazi salute and neo-Nazi symbols? Should we ban the Union Jack because it represented oppression to our forefathers?


Whenever a mass shootings occur, we are quick blame racism, the Confederate flag, easy access to guns, unhappy childhood and dozens of other more or less ridiculous causes. Ignored in the blame orgy is the 800 pound gorilla of mental illness. After all the knee-jerk reactions are over and the incidents are examined dispassionately, it invariably turns out that the perpetrator was mentally ill or mentally disturbed and that he was not taking his medicine(s). But then mental illness as a cause for crime does not carry the same emotional charge or political capital as “racism”. Mental illness as cause of crimes points the finger directly at the Federal, state and local governments for eviscerating mental health care programs over the past couple of decades for no better reason than the unwillingness to spend money. Racism as a cause, on the other hand, absolves the government of any culpability and provides politicians and demagogues with a platform to bloviate.


Stick to writing about sports because you don’t know shit you fuckin idiot. Just because some wacko shot people and has photos of himself with the flag means nothing. We have wackos everywhere. What about the Colorado movie theatre massacre or the sick bastard that killed all the kids in the Newtown school not that long ago. Those cases didn’t have blacks involved so they are forgotten. Its called Southern heritage. I have a flag and I don’t hate anyone as long as they are good people. That inbred hillbilly that killed the people in church should be executed immediately. Its called being mentally deranged !!!!!


You are a complete jackass for writing the article and comparing the flag to ISIS or Nazi. You are whacked and obviously a bleeding heart liberal. Stick to sports if you know anything about them.


Why do think the Confederate flag should be removed just to satisfy a few black people.? What about my right to fly the flag?


I couldn’t disagree with you more about the Confederate Flag. Have you ever really thought about the why? It’s certainly not based on historical facts. Over the years there has been a constant movement to eradicate the southern history of the U.S. If you will, one group imposing their will over another. Where is the middle ground? The confederate flag as a symbol has been hijacked. Race really had nothing to do with secession from the union and formation of the Confederacy which came well before the emancipation proclamation. The heart of the secession was over states rights (and economics), not slavery an many would lead you to believe.

One has to ask, why there isn’t the same movement to eradicate African history about the slave trade or those atrocities. Or the Boston shippers, or even the Irish slave trade. It happened, we need to live in the present and future, not the past.

Why is it that many diverse groups get to celebrate their heritage, holidays, and heroes but the south can not? Some of which are offensive to me. The south was not an evil empire.

If flag bothers Mr Daugherty, he certainly has a right not to participate. Political expediency should not be the end all solution to every issue. There are a group of people that make a kings living from divisiveness. These should be the ones to be removed, not a piece of cloth.


Dear Jeff, as a southern redneck nascar fan I would like to take this time to tell you that sometimes your opinion is not asked for as in the Confederate Flag controversy and this is one of those times. Nascar is a sport born and bred in the south and is supported by mainly rednecks. I cannot say for certain where you are from but by your picture wearing a collar shirt with a sweater over top is so far in the opposite direction. A Proud Redneck would not be caught wearing that outfit. As for the Confederate Flag, we fly it high and proud second only to the Stars and Stripes. To people like myself it represents a hard working blue collar worker. Someone that is there for their fellow man no matter what their race or religion except for maybe Muslim, and that is only directed to the radical ones that feel all other religion followers should be beheaded. One that is proud of his heritage. One that is a God fearing man such as myself. People like you want to associate the Confederate Flag with racism. I don’t hear you wanting to ban the Black Panters from attending or the race baters from attending nascar events. A lowlife scumbag Caucasian committed a horrible crime against humanity. Just because he flew a Confederate Flag does not mean that the flag commited or made him commit the crime, did the gun make him commite the crime, no. His mental condition did. I also do not hear you saying to ban the American Flag, I’m sure it offerds someone. How about the Star Spangle Banner, that was written during a war in which we were killing people from the same country that most American men were originally from. Maybe it offends the British. Maybe we should ban the flyover by Military Aircraft as that could be considered a show of aggression. Ban sky boxes they make people that can’t afford them feel inferior, ban beer ( recovering alcoholics), ban soda, (causes obesity), ban Hot Dogs, ban the sponsors from nascar, they promote wreckless driving. Nascar discriminated against Chrysler because of the 69 Dodge Daytona or the 70 Plymouth Superbird because they were beating the other manufacturers. let’s ban Nascar, they promote a sport that is followed by thousands of Caucasian rednecks and that could be misconscrewed as an event that promotes bringing together Southern Redneck Confederate Flag waving people in one place which might make others feel uncomfortable or unsafe. We can sit here all day and come up with all kinds of reasons to ban things. Why don’t you try to figure out why some people just don’t like others of different races or how to get people off of welfare or how to make sure that your fellow man has food to eat or a roof over their head. If you took all the money from the sponsor and bought food and clothes and help with education I would have more respect for them than I have now. This sport makes a small amount of people rich and it does provide low to middle-class jobs but on the other hand it promotes excessive fuel consumption, abuse of natural resources to manufacture equipment that is used and abused for one race then thrown away. Just a thought. Have a nice day! P.S. What about the over paid whine baby athletes or stupid reality shows. Can’t we all just get along. Lets promote that idea.


Your fucking face in the paper is really offensive. TAKE IT DOWN
Who made you the top dog of NASCAR? Been watching races for forty years. Never heard of anyone named GLUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Mr. Gluck, I generally do not read articles written by those associated with USA-today but your article about the Confederate flag and Nascar caught my attention. Forget about what you wrote for a minute. At what point in your life would you be willing to give up a specific freedom that you have?
Demanding that one group of people give up their right on anything is extremely dangerous. I do not assume that you are a liberal but your article is of the liberal mind set. When someone’s freedom to do what they like is taken away, that will lead to other freedom’s being denied. Giving up, or denying, freedom comes with a dangerous price. What are you going to do when enough people demand that you stop writing? Well, you may say that it is your right to publish articles that cause division among the readers. I could say that you are offensive and should be forced to stop writing. You wrote, “What if a fan flew a Nazi or ISIS flag. Surely, someone would order it removed”. Check out merchandise by major markets and you will see that these flags are being sold. Are you going to demand that these outlets stop selling these flags. I doubt it. If you want to make the Confederate flag a political issue you can think the Democrats of the past and present. The Democratic Party is saturated with racism going back past Woodrow Wilson. Just for information, those who do fly the Confederate flag do not do it to incite racism. Those who are offended by the flag are going to be offended by something else. Also, if you look back at the incident in Charleston you will see that the victims family did not instigate the removal of the Confederate flag. It was instigated by Leftwing radicals with an end goal of causing divisiveness among the people. Last, Obama is a master of dividing the country and he is doing a good job executing his agenda.


You are a stupid liberal piece of garbage. Start watching Fox News, pick up a history book or better yet read this article.


Freedom of expression allows you to spew your hateful liberalism. Why hateful? Declaring self-righteousness then removing someone else’s freedom is truly hateful. People choose to go to NASCAR or watch it on TV. If one is offended in any way, don’t go. I do not watch the NBA. In 1992 Confederate battle flags were displayed by citizens in East Berlin as a sign of rebellion against central authority. People hate being pushed! Beware of a tsunami of backlash. You may see more battle flags than stars in the sky just as a sign of rebellion – forget heritage or history. Good luck to you, Mr. Gluck.


So, would you like your words to be banned or your column also? Probably not. You state that people at NASCAR races have no right of FREEDOM of EXPRESSION? you can’t deny it because you say that our Constitution doesn’t exist; you said that in your story. A columnist that wants freedom banned.
Why do you want the “REBEL FLAG” banned? Not once did you explain this.
Is this what you learned at your liberal college you went to? How come you don’t want the American flag banned? Roof had the American flag in his pics; I dare you write about that.
You see, you are a coward who writes the easy story and jumps on the bandwagon by not researching for your story. You don’t know anything about this.
Why don’t you write a story on how Amazon still sells ISIS flags, Che Guevara stuff, the communist manifesto and your favorite the Nazi Germany flag.


Mr. Gluck,
This is just a courtesy email to let you know I will never read anymore of your articles and I have canceled my subscription to the USA Today. I just read your idiotic article about banning the Confederate Flag from Nascar. How ridiculous can one get? Well you just answered that with your stupid article. The Confederate Flag has absolutely nothing to do with anything your writing about. That “Flag” is part my heritage along with millions of other people. It’s a “Flag” that represents the history of America. Should we remove Andrew Jackson from all US currency for slaughtering the Native Americans?, should we remove the portrait of Robert E. Lee from the Smithsonian because he led the Confederate Army? Should we remove George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and many other presidents from the history books because they owned slaves? You need to get a grip with reality. Better yet I would suggest you re-enroll in school and study history. This would further prevent you from making a fool out of yourself. Your article was the laughing stock of about 120 employees this morning. The flag is a moment in “History”. It represented the Confederate States of America. Thousands and thousands of brave young men fought for that flag and died on the battlefield. It’s doesn’t represent a view of anything. It represents “History”. Everyone including your un-informed self wants to make it out to be something it isn’t. Are you that inexperienced of a writer that this is all you can find to write about? There are hundreds of feel good sports stories you could write about but you chose to embarrass yourself and write about a “Flag”. Why not write about the kid that over came life threatening cancer to win a state championship in baseball. Or a young girl that lost both of her parents in a horrible car accident at the age of 12 and won a state championship in tennis and graduated valedictorian of her class? That’s what you should be writing about. But wait!!!! That would mean you would have to get up from the comfort of your desk and computer and actually have to work to write a worthy story. I can bet you there are a many, and I mean many other people that would like to send you this same email but they aren’t going to take the time out of their day to do it. So I will do it for them. They just won’t read your articles anymore because clearly you put no thought in them. Grow up!!!!! The Civil War is over. It’s been over for 150 years. This is 2015!!!!! Check your calendar if you don’t believe me. I will post this on Facebook to my 700 plus friends and on average they will share with a minimum of 10 friends which is 7000, then that 7000 will keep the dominos falling.

Your article today saying that, “What if a fan flew a Nazi flag on the property? What about an ISIS flag? Surely, someone would order it removed”, bothered me. Those flags inherently support a one sided approach to their meaning from the time they where created. The confederate flag was created in 1861 as a symbol of pride for the confederate states of america. It was not created to spew hate and racism just because individuals have used it for that purpose is not a reason for defining it. Also, do not include comments like if any African American sees the flag surely it 100% represents hate, that’s just not true. I am disappointed in the fact that you are no different from any one else in the media right now jumping on the easy band wagon of get rid of it because the media says so. The truth is Jeff you probably just figured out two weeks ago what the confederate flag is. Remember Jeff, a flag is only an inanimate object. Just because something offends someone we cannot be quick to ban it. Freedom of Speech and our constitutional rights is all we have in America. Start Banning everything that offends any minority and see where this country ends up.


Bad news — like really bad news — seems to be happening at a more frequent rate lately.

Disasters always happen, but the last six months alone have had some mind-blowing, heartbreaking events:  The horrific school shooting in Newtown, Conn.; the Boston Marathon bombings; the explosion in West, Texas.

And, today, the monster tornado that destroyed lives and families in Oklahoma.

Every time one of these things happens lately, the pattern feels the same: We sit in front of the TV glued to the endless loop of the same pictures (why these huge networks can’t come up with more footage is beyond me) and think to ourselves, “Wow, this really puts things in perspective.”

Then a week goes by — maybe not even that much — and that perspective disappears.

Why does that happen? Our lives should be enriched by perspective gained through realizing, “Holy crap, there are people who have REAL problems — and they make mine look like nothing.” And maybe for a short time, we are affected and do respond.

But then it’s back to normal.

Before long, we’re getting irritated with family members, bad-mouthing people from work, losing our tempers because someone cuts us off in traffic or takes too long at the ATM.

What gives? Why is perspective so hard to maintain?

Even after 9/11, when the country was more united than I can ever remember in our lifetime, we soon went back to partisan bickering. If possible, we’re even more divided than before.

Perhaps it’s that to enjoy life, we don’t allow ourselves to dwell on these disasters. These things happen to “other” people, and while we pause to be sad for them and express our shock at what occurred, we eventually move on.

That seems awfully selfish, because the families who have suffered through tragedies can never truly move on. But we all do it. I wish we didn’t.

Can anyone explain why?