Hannah Overton and the incredible power of (mis)information

In the movie Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Cobb, says, “What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient…highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain, it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed – fully understood – that sticks; right in there somewhere.”
Writer Christopher Nolan was right, an idea that sticks is one of the most powerful things in all of the world. Therefore, it is vital that the information we receive is correct information because it is the what we rely on to form our ideas.
I was reminded of this yesterday when a friend shared an article about the death of an adopted child named Andrew (http://www.texasmonthly.com/2012-01-01/feature2.php#.Tx2e-WnqtC4.facebook ).
I thought I knew the story. Larry and Hannah Overton adopted a young troubled boy who had been born to a mother who did drugs. The child was more than they could handle. They used a form of punishment that involved using Creole seasoning and other spices. She forced him to drink so much spicy water that she killed him by salt poisoning. She was convicted and murder. She is serving life in prison. End of story. Right?
A few years ago, South Texas churches really pushed the court system to give her a new trial. So, I tried to dig up more information to figure out where I stood on the issue. I still concluded that, although the case had flaws, her guilt was somewhere in the 50/50 range.
Remember, I still had in my head the narrative that had been given by the media – The Hannah Overton had punished Andrew by forcing him to drink two cups of the spiced water. After all, hadn’t a CPS worker said that Hannah admitted to doing this?
Just one problem, my idea that she was guilty was built on information that was simply not true. The CPS worker had lied. The prosecution never called him to testify in court. But the misinformation had its intended impact – it produced an idea. And, as Cobb says in Inception, an idea is “almost impossible to eradicate.” So, everything I read about the case was still filtered through that piece of misinformation.
It is frightening that a narrative can be built around misinformation. False information can plant false ideas. False ideas lead us to live a life on a foundation of a lie.
Dallas Willard once said, “We know too many things that just aren’t true.” It is ironic that we have more access to information than ever before and yet we seem more misinformed by that information than ever before. So, while we laugh at past ages because they were so uninformed, I wonder if they could look forward they might laugh at us for being so misinformed. At least when you are uninformed you can gain knowledge. When you are misinformed, where do you go?

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One Response to “Hannah Overton and the incredible power of (mis)information”

  1. janie velez says:

    It is very true that important information is omitted. Hannah does feel responsible for the death of her young son but capital murder should not have been the ruling. I don’t believe it was premeditated. It is so sad that now her children must travel miles to see her.

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