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United fiasco brings out worst qualities in media

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More than a week later, United Airlines is still recovering from one of the worst public relations scandals ever. On April 9, on flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville, a passenger, David Dao, was randomly selected to leave the plane to provide seats for United employees who needed to travel to Louisville.

Dao refused to leave and was forcibly removed by three police officers. In the process of being dragged off the plane, Dao had two teeth knocked out and broke his nose.

United’s actions were completely unacceptable. No person, let alone a paying customer, should ever be treated the way Dao was. Before using force, United should have considered its other options.

They could have arranged another way for their employees to get to Louisville; or better yet, they shouldn’t have relied on standby flying if it was so important for their employees to get to there. They could have offered more money or even booked them on a competitor’s flight. Anything would have been preferable over forcibly removing a passenger who had already boarded the plane.

To make matters worse, United’s CEO Oscar Munoz’s reaction was less than ideal. In his first statement, Munoz lacked emotion and did not acknowledge the severity of the situation. In an email to employees, Munoz claimed Dao was “disruptive and belligerent.” In later statements, although Munoz apologized, his remarks didn’t seem to express enough concern for the event.

As always, many started to victim-blame. Personal information, such as criminal records, were dug up on Dao. These facts were used to somehow explain what happened on the flight, as if somehow they were relevant to the horrifying occurrence.

Victim blaming is by no means a new phenomenon, but it needs to stop. It is often seen in sexual assault cases, where victims are blamed for putting themselves in situations that caused the assault. Similarly, when victims of police violence are identified, the media digs up potential criminal records to somehow justify the situation.

But it doesn’t.

The media has a responsibility to report facts that are relevant to the story; bringing up prior criminal records does not affect what happened in certain situations. Dao’s past is irrelevant to what happened on United’s plane last week, and the media needs to stop embarrassing and blaming the victim.

There are videos that show exactly how the events unfolded, and you don’t need to know about Dao’s past to know that it was horrifying. Instead of blaming Dao, we should expect United to take responsibility for its actions.

United is definitely feeling the impact of their actions through falling stock prices, bad publicity and being the punchline of many jokes. They have definitely attempted to recover by reimbursing the passengers on the plane and changing their policies about standby flying for employees.

While these are all good steps toward recovery, I believe United could have been a lot more successful if it had taken responsibility initially. There is definitely a lesson to be learned here, and not just for United. Organizations need to be more proactive about preventing such occurrences, and if issues do arise, they should take responsibility.  

Fariha Jawed is an accounting and political science junior and can be reached at [email protected]

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