Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fallout from the "Three Cups of Tea" expose

Posted By on Tue, Apr 19, 2011 at 12:27 PM

If you happened to miss the "60 Minutes" story on Bozeman philanthropist and best-selling author Greg Mortenson, you can watch the entire segment below. What's happened since it aired has been a pretty interesting study in damage control.

In the report, Mortenson gets the full "60 Minutes" treatment: Multiple sources question the validity of certain key stories in Mortenson's two books — "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones Into Schools" — and criticize how his nonprofit, Central Asia Institute (CAI), handles its funds. Specifically, correspondent Steve Kroft found schools that CAI purported to build in Afghanistan and Pakistan that have never been used, and that the almost $60 million raised by CAI was primarily spent promoting Mortenson and his books. Mortenson declined to be interviewed in the piece, leaving Kroft to show up at one of Mortenson's book signings looking for a comment. That never works out well. Mortenson called security before escaping through a back door.

Mortenson stands by his work and has launched a damage-control campaign to save his internationally lauded organization. (Mortenson and CAI have appeared in nearly every publication imaginable, usually portrayed in glowing terms for building schools, improving relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan and, in particular, promoting womens education in those countries. He was on The Indy cover in 2008.) In a statement, Mortenson called the "60 Minutes" piece "a distorted picture using inaccurate information, innuendo" and criticized it for "a microscopic focus on one year’s (2009) IRS 990 financial, and a few points in the book “Three Cups of Tea” that occurred almost 18 years ago."

The author also gave a preemptive interview to his hometown paper, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, that ran two days before the "60 Minutes" story aired. The paper has a close relationship with Mortenson, as evidenced by staff writer Gail Schontzler interviewing Chronicle Assistant Managing Editor Karin Ronnow, who has worked with Mortenson since 2007, for the story.

"Bottom line, Greg can be a difficult person to work with, often stretched way too thin and constantly on the road. But he is not a liar," Ronnow is quoted as saying.

Others aren't so sure.

Viking, the publisher of Mortenson's memoir, says it's reviewing the content of "Three Cups of Tea."

Best-selling author Jon Krakauer, who was quoted in the "60 Minutes" piece, published a 72-page evisceration of Mortenson on Monday titled, "Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way."

Forbes blogger Michael Humphrey has written two excellent pieces on the scandal, including one that compares Mortenson's damage control game plan to (sigh) Sarah Palin's usual antics.

The University of Louisville, which last week gave Mortenson a $100,000 grant and the 2011 Grawmeyer Award, appears to be reconsidering the honor.

Rima Al- Sabah, the wife of Kuwait’s ambassador to Washington, D.C., helped raise $2 million for CAI. A disappointed and "shocked" Al-Sabah told the Washington Post: “He told us he would be building about 60 schools with the money raised. And I will hold him accountable to that.”

Lastly, Mortenson doesn't seem to be doing himself any favors. He acknowledged to the Chronicle that at least part of the accusations were true.

"The time about our final days on K2 and ongoing journey to Korphe village and Skardu is a compressed version of events that took place in the fall of 1993," he wrote the paper in a statement. "As the co-author of the book, along with David Oliver Relin, I am responsible for the content in the book. There were many people involved in the story and also those who produced the manuscript. What was done was to simplify the sequence of events for the purposes of telling what was, at times, a complicated story."

He also told Outside magazine in an interview: "It’s really complicated, but I’m not a journalist. I don’t take a lot of notes." He also said he took responsibility for being a bad manager and that he needs to "slow down and delegate."

Mortenson's dug himself a deep hole. As Forbes' Humphrey concludes in today's post: "I thought with a good rebuttal, there was a ray of hope for his organization. Krakauer’s book dispels that notion. All that is left are the stars."

  • Email
  • Favorite
  • Print
Today | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu
Warren Miller’s Line of Descent

Warren Miller’s Line of Descent @ Wilma Theatre

Fri., Oct. 20, 7:30 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

© 2017 Missoula News/Independent Publishing | Powered by Foundation