It’s heady stuff to be published, but downright phenomenal when a writer’s book lays the proverbial “golden egg.” Greg Mortenson seems to be the goose whose Three Cups of Tea was the egg that got laid. And as it turns out, it might have been really worth a “goose egg,” pun intended.
On Sunday evening, I watched CBS “60 Minutes“ where journalist Jon Krakauer was featured as the man who brought down Mortenson’s “house of cards.” An early believer in the author’s tale, Krakauer eventually learned from a former boardmember of Mortenson’s charity, that all was not right with how it was being run. Furthermore the book itself is suspect because not all the details are based upon fact, or if they are, they did not occur as he described.
Three Cups of Tea tells how Mortenson lost his way in a mountain-climbing trip in Pakistan in 1993. He was with a companion who disputes the events as told in the book. According to the author, he was revived by the village people of Korphe. As a result of their compassionate efforts on his behalf, Mortenson decided to undertake the construction of schools for children in the area. He also tells of being kidnapped by the Taliban on a return trip. Photographs in the book show him in garb like the men who surround him. One picture even shows the author holding up a rifle. “Sixty Minutes” spoke with some of these supposed kidnappers, one being an Islamic intellectual who has himself penned many books. These men insist they are not Taliban, nor did they kidnap Mortenson. Rather they were enlisted to show him the surrounding countryside. It was his desire to build other schools for the children of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
While Krakauer does not detract from Mortenson’s initial humanitarian motives, the journalist takes issue with the author’s inability to justify the inaccuracies that have since surfaced. It seems Mortenson has used in excess of a million dollars of funds donated for his charity, the Central Asia Institute, to promote his book. Less than that amount has gone towards the Institute’s work. His accounting of the monies used is found lacking in specifics. Traveling from city to city for book-signings has sometimes occured via private jet. Meanwhile, the schools that were suppose to be built, have either not been constructed, or stand empty of any occupants. Others that are operating, have not received a penny from the charity in years.
Sixty Minutes’ Steve Croft was unsuccessful in getting Mortenson to speak on camera. He refused. He continued to maintain his silence when Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg of the Wall Street Journal sent an email asking for a comment for his article “Publisher Plans to Vet Memoir With Author.” On his charity’s website, Mortenson states that he is due to have “heart surgery later this week and when he recovers he will ‘come out fighting for what is right and just, and be able to talk to the media.’ ”
Meanwhile Mortenson’s publisher, Viking, maintains their praise of the author’s philantrophic efforts, but have registered their concerns saying that ” ’60 Minutes’ is a serious news organization.” So there could be a recall of the work, or the addition of an author’s note to later editions of the book. Krakauer who had donated $75,000 to the Central Asia Institute in its initial heyday, has now written his own lengthy account of Mortenson’s book, entitled Three Cups of Deceipt: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way.
On Forbes.com, writer Michael Humphrey covers the ongoing debate as to the facts of Mortenson’s book. After reviewing Mortenson’s mumbo-jumbo about the discrepancies put forth in the “60 Minutes” documentary, Humphrey sides with Krakauer’s rational dilineation of what really took place.
Mortenson abandoned his attempt on K2. He trekked down from the mountain in the company of three companions: his American friend and climbing partner Scott Darsney; his Balti porter, Mouzafer; and Darsney’s porter, Yakub. According to each of these companions, the four men walked together into Askole, whereupon they immediately hired a jeep to take them to the city of Skardu, the district capital. When they drove out of the mountains, Darsney assured me, Mortenson “didn’t know Korphe existed.”
Krakauer’s book then deftly explains how Mortenson came to learn of Korphe a year later, rescinded a promise to build a school in Askole, invented the story of his Taliban abduction, and went on to found an organization that one former board treasurer says Mortenson considers “a personal ATM.”
And so Humphrey states:
In yesterday’s post, I was generous with Mortenson, a well-intentioned man who I thought might have lost his way as a storyteller and organizer. I thought with a good rebuttal, there was a ray of hope for his organization. Krakauer’s book dispels that notion.
power of the written word…opium for some…hugmamma.