How the United Passenger Suckered Us
You’ve been snookered folks! By that poor elderly doctor who was involuntarily dragged from his seat, had his face smashed in, and was beaten unconscious by the evil airport security at the behest of United Airlines.
Because there’s no evidence any of that was true. It was in fact a premeditated temper tantrum gone viral, comprising one 69-year-old Vietnamese-American David Dao, a medical doctor who lost his license, planning a lawsuit from the moment United first politely asked him to give up his seat. He demanded to be dragged, did an excellent impersonation of Ned Beatty’s character in that horrific scene in Deliverance, and struck his lip on an armrest. From the many videos taken by numerous passengers, obviously from numerous angles, there’s no evidence of a beating, a “serious” concussion, or bodily damage beyond that lip.
Although some like the Huffington Post want us to ignore his sordid past as inconsequential or “blaming the victim,” it’s important that Dao in 1995 was charged with 98 felony drug counts for illegally prescribing and trafficking painkillers, sometimes in exchange for homosexual sex. (He’s married. To a woman.) That normally would get you identified as unreliable scum. He surrendered his medical license and even now is only allowed to practice internal medicine in an outpatient facility one day a week.
To be sure, United deserves blame and played into Dao’s hands—not entirely a metaphor since the good doctor has also made hundreds of thousands of dollars on the professional poker circuit. It appears that by law they were supposed to have upped the payment to $1,350 to make room for four United employees who needed to get to Louisville right away. Why did they stop at $800 (plus a hotel voucher)? Further, this all should have occurred before boarding, but there passengers apparently were only offered $400.
“It’s clearly the man’s fault that security had to drag him off, said one of the passengers who uploaded his video of the incident. He was resisting.” “I don’t blame the security guards at all,” he told Fox News. That was “the only way they could get him off the plane.”
But once he was asked to give up his seat, along with three other passengers who willing obliged, Dao’s mental gears began to whirl. One video depicts him telling someone by telephone “I make lawsuit against United Airlines for discrimination.” Yet another video shows him insisting that he be dragged. All the while he held up the departure, as indeed he would again as everyone had to leave while the blood was cleaned up.
Over time his injuries have grown dramatically. He checked himself into a hospital where first he, then one of the lawyers from the two law firms he’s retained, claimed he suffered from “everything.” Curious diagnosis, that. Though none of the videos show it, he also claims to have lost two front teeth, a broken nose, and a “serious” concussion. Obviously, this all appeared off camera, after he left the plane. One of his lawyers repeated that curious diagnosis. (He’s retained not one but two Chicago-area law firms. Natch.)
Except that… he came back on the plane, melodramatically uttering over and over again, “They’ll kill me.” He clearly showed bleeding from the lip but there was no other evident damage. I’ve had three broken noses; I know what they look like. Broken. Easy way to settle this; a picture from Dao or his lawyers. There are no pictures.
This is obvious nonsense, so how did he get so far with it?
THE BLACK MIRROR
In part, welcome to the world of The Black Mirror. That’s a highly-regarded Netflix series about a dystopian near-future in which social media dictates “the truth.” The name refers to a blank cell phone or tablet screen.
The Sturm und Drang began with a short clip uploaded first to Facebook and then other media. It began just as Dao was pulled from his seat. You didn’t see him being apologetically requested to leave first by United employees and then by security. Nor the phone call nor daring to be dragged. With social media, he who uploads or tweets first dictates the story.
Now add the opposite of the laugh track, the scream track. Several passengers yelling “Omigawd!” and chiding the security guards. Laugh tracks tell us “This is funny; laugh!” Scream tracks tell us “This is horrible! Be outraged!”
With social media dictating what news is, the event became clickbait
With social media dictating what news is, the event became clickbait (”Must See Pictures of United Passenger!”) and the mainstream media “analysts” jumped in. It was easy to choose sides given the Sarah Bernhardt performance and the perceived American loathing of airlines. Part of this is the result of 9/11 restrictions, but part is due to consolidations that have given many airlines monopolies on routes and let them do such things as charge us for pretzels and squeeze us into tiny spaces that only a chiropractor could love. (Curiously, while only 35 percent of Americans rate US airlines positively, only 32 percent rate them negatively according to Gallup. So there seems to be a whole lot of ambivalence.)
The London Independent went so far as to say Dao’s life was “ruined,” while one of his team of attorneys asserted Dao “said that being dragged down the aisle was more horrifying and harrowing than what he experienced when leaving Vietnam.” By tomorrow it will be worse than having been gassed at Auschwitz.
But part of the phenomenon long precedes YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and social media dictating the news. It’s the American cult of victimization.
American cult of victimization
Thirteen years ago I penned a column called “Victims Are Our New Heroes, noting that at one time that meant putting yourself at risk by going beyond normal civic or military duties. Yet Magic Johnson went from “sports hero” (another misnomer) to All-American Hero by virtue of contracting AIDS. That simple. Since then, in embeds in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve gotten to know real heroes, those who died or gave up body parts (self included) or at least risked doing so. So I’ve become even less sympathetic to the nouveaux “heroes.”
Dao’s quick thinking and theatrics show he knows how to play the system as well as he knows how to play cards, combining social media and the cult of victimization into what presumably will be a very hefty payout for a very dishonest man.