A Doctor With A Past, The Free Market, And United Airlines: A Love Story

REUTERS/Louis Nastro

Michael McGrady Director of McGrady Policy Research
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We all saw the videos —  a man being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight after it. Blood running from his face. Chicago Aviation Department security personnel abound.

Seemingly, the responsibility of the mainstream media is to report this in an in-depth fashion. No? Oh well, that is my job now.

To begin, I have to point out that there are three primary narratives being pushed, in my opinion. The first narrative is the typical police/security brutality narrative: the man was hurt by means of excessive force. A narrative surrounding United’s idiocy is the second. And, disgracefully, a narrative that the man removed, David Dao, aged 69, is a direct response to his criminal history from more than a decade ago.

Well, try this narrative on for size: we’re all losers in this situation. Let’s start with the free market and the government and their response.

We are all mad at United Airlines and it is showing within the reactions of the free market economy our country needs to survive. For example: at the end of the trading day on Tuesday, United’s parent company, United continental Holdings, lost nearly 4 percent on the stock market for the removal debacle. In normal-people-speak, United lost over $1 billion in market value.

United’s top investor, Warren Buffett, wasn’t too happy either. The Berkshire Hathaway chief executive has over $2 billion invested into the world’s third largest carrier. The poor performance also comes in a series of market flubs that reflect in United’s long-running quarterly losses.

To me, though, one of the main reasons why United experience such a major sell-off was through their illustrious CEO, Oscar Munoz. The genius “apologized” for the maltreatment of Dao and classified it as “re-accommodating” customers. It is also ironic that PRWeek named Munoz Communicator of the Year in March. His skills are really showing here…

All I have to say here is that the actions of United to overbook and then show no regard for the safety of their customer shows that the company didn’t hold up their end of the contract (call it transaction) they enter upon a passenger’s payment for a flight.

Emphatically, the internet responded with outrage and several hashtags launched to boycott United and for Munoz to step down. And, I am not mad about it… It is the consumer responding in the prominent generational means of communication and informational exchange.

Besides the trolls that are skillfully dropping bombs on social media, the United incident and the company’s handling of it brought in the attention of the federal Department of Transportation, the Chicago City Council, and – pause for dramatic effect – Congress.

These entities, among several internal investigations, will be sifting through the incident from the perspective of the taxpayer-funded security officers, the Airline operator, and the witness, among others.

I personally think that we don’t need the Congress to lead an investigation which will turn into an overblown witch hunt, like it always does, when we have more prominent issues to deal with at the federal level. But, what do I know?

In the end, the only advice I can give is for Munoz to lawyer up. Lawsuits are upon you and your company.

The other components of my argument that I need to point out is the treatment of Dao by the airport security staff and the media.

TMZ, a tabloid that everyone hates but still reads (great business model), ran a piece on Dao’s criminal history, despite his worldwide embarrassment. It was reported that Dao was charged with a felony over a decade ago for malpractice and illegal prescription drug distribution while he was still a practicing medical doctor. Other media reports threw in a sex tape allegation into the mix too. I don’t know what that is about but my response to all of this is that my fellow journalists are idiots.

Running a smear campaign to try and fabricate a tale that justifies the treatment of Dao refusing to disembark from a flight is disgraceful and violates even the most basic of ethical questions. To me, the only answer for coverage like this is that these publishers are taking on client stories, where people pay publishers to run with a specific editorial slant, but, that is still unfounded.

It was a decade ago. Let it go.

Though I intend to be brief here, the treatment of Dao by aviation security staff, and then the Chicago Police Department, is also textbook behavior intentioned to violate a man’s personal rights.

Even though aviation security staff, at least at O’Hare, can enforce a limited authority, the treatment of Dao was unwarranted. Chicago Police even claimed that Dao “fell,” despite video evidence suggesting otherwise. I will keep my eye on the police department for you all. It just doesn’t sit right with me.

It is clear where I stand. But, my ending remark is this: no one won here. Social media, crappy news coverage, horrible corporate responsibility, questionable governmental response, and convoluted narratives make us all a loser. So, don’t be proud, regardless of what side of the equation you end up on. Why? We screwed this up as a society. It’s very clear.