A week ago today we learned an American aid worker by the name of Kayla Mueller had been killed by John Doe terrorists (those who repeatedly choose to disrespect life have not earned identifying tags).
She died trying to tell the world outside of Syria what was happening inside of Syria. Seven days later, Americans are mostly just talking about terrorists.
If they’re talking about it at all.
A week ago today Brian Williams was officially replaced as the anchor of NBC Nightly News. After years of reporting things that were true, he went on TV a few weeks ago and said at least one thing that was not true. And then the Internet exploded and cable TV followed and now there’s a list of other things he may have exaggerated, misremembered, embellished, lied about, etc.
Sometimes we focus on the wrong thing. That’s what I think these two stories have in common.
The Kayla Mueller story is about giving.
The Brian Williams story is about taking.
Mueller gave an interview in which she said:
For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal.
She made the Syrian people the story. She never wanted to be the story. In death, she was. She probably wouldn’t like that.
Brian Williams, whether he meant to or not, took something that wasn’t his. He put himself at the world’s center. He put himself on a helicopter he wasn’t on. There’s no denying it made for a better story. But that had a way of cheapening the experience for the guys who actually were on the helicopter when it came under enemy fire. Brian Williams wanted to be the story. A decade after the event, he got his wish. It’s just a different story than he’d scripted.
I don’t know what Kayla Mueller can tell us about terrorism, or foreign policy, or humanitarian work. I don’t know what Brian Williams can tell us about journalism, or office dynamics, or psychology.
I know that sometimes we focus on the wrong thing.
Kayla Mueller gave small gifts on a grand scale and lost her life. Brian Williams told a grand story, became small (figuratively) because of it, and lost his job. The “small” thing is the story. Everything else is noise.