Troubled past of doctor dragged off United flight sparks debate about fairness

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz (left) issued a letter defending his employees, saying the passenger who was forced out of his seat was being "disruptive and belligerent."

A day after a Kentucky doctor was dragged off a United Airlines flight, the story remained the focus of intense national attention, and the doctor's own past became a subject of conversation.

Those personal details added new fuel to the social media debate over the incident, and the treatment of people who find themselves suddenly thrust into a national spotlight.

Since video of the incident became public, news organizations have been trying to identify the man who was forcibly pulled from a Louisville-bound flight at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on Sunday to free up a seat for an airline employee.

On Tuesday, he was identified as David Dao, 69, a physician from Elizabethtown, Ky., who told Louisville news station WLKY that he was recovering in a Chicago hospital after “everything" was injured. Dao told the station he was not doing well.

It took virtually no time for his hometown paper, the Courier-Journal, to point out that Dao, a father of five and grandfather who went to medical school in Vietnam, had his medical license suspended for about 10 years for illegally prescribing painkillers, including to a patient in exchange for sex. It's all a matter of public record.

TMZ reported that while his medical license was suspended, Dao "made a killing" as a World Series of Poker player, earning a total of $234,664.

There is no getting around Dao's history now that it is public, but the reports raised the ire of many on social media who argued that Dao's background wasn't known and shouldn't have been relevant to his treatment on the plane, and that it appeared to be another case of blaming the victim.

In a post for Forbes, aviation writer Christine Negroni said, "Before the next news cycle begins to trash the Louisville doctor, David Dao, for his past brushes with the law, I hope reports of his criminal conviction in 2004 will be put into perspective and that the debate will expand to include whether United was even justified in removing Sunday four passengers on a flight from Chicago to Louisville."

The situation has also caused an uproar in China, where many wondered if Dao was removed because of his ethnicity.  

The video posted on the Chinese social media site Shina Weibo had been viewed more than 210 million times by late Tuesday, the New York Daily News reported.

Another Chinese social media site, We Chat, called for a boycott of United Airlines, the paper reported.

All of this has created a huge headache for United Airlines, which saw its stock drop as a result and finds itself trapped in a public relations nightmare.