No, the news media did not get the wrong David Dao.
Angry allegations have been flying across social media on Wednesday, charging that local and national news outlets misidentified Dao, an Elizabethtown, Ky., physician, as the passenger that security dragged off a United Airlines flight on Sunday.
The Internet rumors stated that the real David Dao who was pulled off the flight was actually from Louisiana, where records and Google searches show there is a second man by that name who practices medicine. Media outlets had already been widely criticized over their coverage of the story and questioned over why it was relevant to publish details from Dao’s criminal history.
So for many social media users, if the Internet’s Louisiana theories were true, it would show that the news media was not only irritatingly invasive, but libelously sloppy — accusing another David Dao of past crimes he did not commit.
Except the Internet’s Louisiana rumors aren’t true.
“That is totally wrong, yeah,” said a receptionist who answered the phone at the office in Elizabethtown where Dao’s wife works. She confirmed that, yes, the Elizabethtown David Dao is the same David Dao who was on the United flight.
Additional confirmation (or denial, rather) comes from the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, where the other David Dao works.
“The David Dao we have as resident here is not the David Dao on the United flight,” said a student worker who answered the phone. He declined to give his name for publication, but he sounded grateful to be asked for clarification about Dao’s identity. “We have gotten nonstop calls over the past day.”
In an incident that has made international headlines, the Kentucky David Dao boarded a flight in Chicago that was headed to Louisville when United staff tried to kick him off the plane to make room for airline employees. Dao refused, saying that he was a doctor who needed to go home to see patients. Airline staff summoned security, who manhandled a shrieking Dao and dragged him off the plane as other passengers watched in horror. (A security officer was later suspended pending an investigation into the incident, and officials have not responded to requests to release a name and service history.)
Video of the incident dominated the news cycle, and the Louisville Courier-Journal, after discovering Dao’s name, found out that he had been involved in a prominent criminal case in Kentucky in the early 2000s. Dao was convicted of six felonies in 2004 after being accused of illegally prescribing painkillers to a patient in exchange for sex, according to state medical licensing records.
Critics accused the newspaper and other news outlets of trying to justify the force used against Dao, which in turn fueled the resentment against the media that culminated with the rumor that the media had identified the wrong David Dao.
The origin of the rumor appears to stem from a bit of sloppy Googling by users of a crowd-sourced site called Everipedia, which published erroneous information that then spread across social media and was taken as fact. The site describes itself as “the encyclopedia of everything,” and it functions similarly to Wikipedia, where users contribute the content.
As Dao’s name first began to circulate publicly, users of Everipedia created a page for Dao that identified him as David Thanh Duc Dao, “an American physician based in New Orleans, Louisiana.” To support this identification, users cited links to generic Internet sites that listed the full name of a David Dao who was a doctor in Louisiana — the wrong David Dao.
(Everipedia users would later correct Dao’s page and then identify him with a new name, “David Anh Duy Dao,” “a Vietnamese American physician based in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.” This time, the source was court records related to Dao’s indictment in Kentucky, which listed the correct Dao’s full name.)
But it was too late. Social-media users began identifying the United passenger as “David Thanh Duc Dao,” of Louisiana, which later led other users to point out that this was not the same name listed on Dao’s criminal records in Kentucky.
“They have misidentified him as Dr. David Anh Duy Dao,” wrote a user on Imgur, an image-sharing site, in a post that got more than 34,000 views, which featured a photo of Dao’s bloodied face. (The post was later deleted.) “Dr. David Thanh Duc Dao is his actual name and with the false reports attempting to demonize and justify the treatment of him, it should be known that this man is innocent of the allegations.”
The rumor was then inflated by journalists outside the U.S. who were following the story. “I hate to say I told you so, but as it turns out fact checking matters because a number of publications ... may have confused United’s Dr David Dao with another David Dao registered in a different state,” wrote an Australian freelance journalist, Claire Connelly, on her website.
“Is the United Airlines man being smeared in the media even the right David Dao?” read a headline from the Independent, a British publication. (In the piece, the author, Holly Baxter, did not try to answer the question. “It’s unclear who did that digging and whether serious mistakes in accuracy were made,” Baxter wrote, instead concluding that Dao’s history didn’t matter.)
That effort contrasted with local journalists in Kentucky who had been working doggedly on the story using a variety of sources.
“This is getting a little out of control,” Joel Christopher, editor of the Courier-Journal, said in a phone interview Wednesday. He said the newspaper had first confirmed Dao’s name with “two people with some knowledge of the passenger manifest” from the United flight.
Courier-Journal reporters then gathered Dao’s records with the state of Kentucky, which confirmed his address and his age, and then they checked with Dao’s community. Reporters went to Elizabethtown and spoke to people who knew him and confirmed that it was the same David Dao on the plane.
Christopher added: “It’s the guy.”