Over the weekend, 60 Minutes aired a critical segment about Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute (click link for video), featured in the bestselling memoirs Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools. They alleged that Mortenson either exaggerated, modified or made up many of the stories in the books, including his tale of being rescued by the people of Khorfe after failing to summit K2 and the harrowing story of being kidnapped by the Taliban. The 60 Minutes reporters also heavily criticized the financial management of the CAI, and its use of donated funds to promote Mortenson's books.
Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air, appears in the 60 Minutes interview, and has published an article that goes into greater detail about the lies he believes Mortenson is telling. The PDF of this book, Three Cups of Deceit, can be downloaded at Byliner Originals, and for now it is available for free.
Greg Mortenson's response can be read in an interview at Outside Online. In it, he concedes that the financial management at CAI has problems, but states that they are taking steps to rectify the situation. For example, as of January of this year he now pays for his own travel, one of the major criticisms he received. He also casts blame for inaccuracies in his books on several sources: his co-author, who may have merged visits and events to create a smoother narrative, possible lapses in the memories of those involved, as the events in the books were written many years after they occurred, and on the conceptual difference of 'time' to the Pakistani people.
Why do I bring this all up?
Last year I reviewed Three Cups of Tea and said that it was awesome, amazing, inspiring, etc. etc. etc. So it seemed only fair to share this controversy. I'm not well enough informed to say “Yes, Greg Mortenson is a lying jerk” or “Jon Krakauer and Steve Kroft are jerks, teaming up against a guy who's just trying to do good in this world!” but I'd guess the answer falls somewhere in between.
In Three Cups of Tea, it's stated time and time again that Mortenson is not a business man, lacks financial savvy, and has serious issues with communicating in a timely manner. It would be very easy to see the man in that book as the sort who would lose business receipts, or simply forget to get them in the first place. He certainly has good intentions; while there is dispute over how many of CAI's schools were built, and how many are currently in use, no one denies that schools are being built and awareness of the importance of educating girls in developments is increasing. The past few years, in which he's been very much in demand for speaking engagements and has seen money pouring into the foundation...well, it could easily turn a person's head.
But let me repeat, I honestly don't know. I want to believe in Mortenson's version of events, but I think the questions raised are valid and that he has yet to adequately address them.