The man dragged off his United flight has a past. It should stay there

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Image: AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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On Sunday evening, a man was violently removed from his seat on a United flight from Chicago, Illinois to Louisville, Kentucky. Passengers from the flight shared video of the violent ousting by Chicago police. The story has circulated widely, and the United’s stock plunged as the public’s outrage grew.

The man who was removed has not spoken out publicly, but his fellow passengers quoted him as saying he was a doctor who needed to get back to his patients. Today, Courier Journal newspaper of Louisville published a story about the passenger and his “troubled past.” The story identifies him by name and describes in detail his professional career and criminal record, including a drug conviction more than 10 years ago.

Readers have reacted angrily to the story, arguing on Facebook and Twitter that his past is irrelevant to his forceful removal. Indeed: While people on social media, armed with no facts and tap-happy fingers, might have turned the obstinate passenger into a saint, the truth is that his background—clean or dirty—doesn’t matter here. A paying customer shouldn’t need to have an unblemished record in order to fly home on the flight he paid for, without having his face bloodied.

The Courier Journal story is an insidious combination of gratuitous doxxing and oblique victim shaming. It shows a newsroom looking for ways to discredit a private person merely for being at the center of a news cycle.

This reflexive dirt-digging has had far worse consequences. When the New York Times profiled Michael Brown after he was shot to death in 2014, the paper wrote he was ”no angel,” citing his poor grades and accusations of theft. The story clearly suggested that only those with the cleanest moral and criminal records deserve to be treated justly.

Update: The attorney of Dr. David Dao, the man removed from the United flight, has issued the following statement: