News & Politics

WJLA Never Aired Its Controversial Story About the Man Dragged Off United Flight

"Twitter doesn't control our editorial process," the station's news director says.

WJLA did not air a story that dug into the legal background of David Dao, the Kentucky doctor dragged off a United Airlines flight Monday. On Tuesday WJLA reporter Lisa Fletcher tweeted a photo of her desk with the caption: “My desk is covered w court & legal docs re troubled past of the doctor pulled off United. Our report 4p @ABC7news.”

WJLA wasn’t the first news organization to look into Dao’s background, but Fletcher’s tweet inspired a strong backlash.

Mitch Jacob, the station’s news director, says it didn’t air the story because the newsroom put it “through the litmus test and there were still some questions that were unanswered.” Twitter, he says, “doesn’t control our editorial process.”

Fletcher deleted her original tweet after it lit up the Internet. She added a few more later:

Jacob says Fletcher received upset phone calls but declined to describe their nature or say more about any threats. The now-viral video only shows Dao being forced out of his seat and dragged off the plane, but doesn’t show what led up to the incident, Jacob said. WJLA reporters wanted to get a more complete picture, so they pulled court documents in search of clues that might provide insight into what happened.

“We looked at the evidence and asked, what bearing does him being pulled off the plane have to do with anything? We decided nothing at this point,” says Jacob. WJLA, he says, might yet run information about Dao’s background if other relevant information comes to light.

Julie Strupp is an editorial fellow. Before Washingtonian, she did francophone video, radio, and photography projects addressing gender-based violence in Togo, West Africa with Peace Corps. She worked at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and AllAfrica and has contributed to Mic, Center for Public Integrity, DCist, and more. Now a proud Petworth-dweller, she’s also a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate who loves judo, biking, art, and keeping the powerful accountable.