Louisville’s daily Courier-Journal was widely criticized by journalists on Tuesday for reporting on the criminal record of David Dao, the 69-year-old doctor who was forcibly dragged off a United Airlines plane on Sunday after refusing to abandon his seat on an overbooked flight. “Dao was convicted of multiple felony counts of obtaining drugs by fraud or deceit in November 2004,” Morgan Watkins wrote in her report, “and was placed on five years of supervised probation in January 2005.”
Joel Christopher, the Courier-Journal’s executive editor and vice president of news, defended the article as part of the paper’s ongoing local coverage of Dao, who had to surrender his medical license in 2005 and wasn’t allowed to resume practicing until 2015. The doctor, Christopher told me, is “familiar to people in the local market because of his previous convictions.” He said Watkins’s article was updated to make that clear.
“There’s been previous coverage of the guy,” Christopher said. “That’s how people in the newsroom knew who he was. It was a fairly high-profile case. It was a case that stuck in people’s minds because it was high-profile.”
Christopher said the article’s many critics in national media “need to make sure they’re commenting on it with full context and perspective.”
“I think there are a lot of people who are being stoked by the social media mob mentality,” he said. “It’s easy to get outraged. It’s a little bit harder to do some homework on the topic before you tweet out an opinion.”