Monday, April 18, 2011

Ex-Berkeleyite Greg Mortenson Accused of Faking Three Cups of Tea

By Anneli Star Josselin Rufus
Mon, Apr 18, 2011 at 4:31 PM

Bestselling author Jon Krakauer is ticked off at fellow bestselling author Greg Mortenson — and he's dishing bigtime in a gory-details digital report being released today.

Ex-Berkeleyite Mortenson's book Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time has been hailed far and wide as a testament to the power of human goodwill. But it came under harsh scrutiny during a CBS investigation whose results were aired last night on 60 Minutes.

Allegedly a memoir about how Mortenson's early-'90s mountaineering misadventures spurred his gratitude toward rural villagers in Pakistan and his mission to build schools for girls throughout that region, the book is now being slammed as at least a partial fantasy. After traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan and interviewing people who interacted there with Mortenson, CBS researchers claim that the author fibbed about the chronology of events in the book and about having been abducted by members of the Taliban.

In Three Cups of Deceit, the debut release from online narrative-journalism outfit Byliner Inc., Into Thin Air author Krakauer examines the Three Cups scandal, which also involves Mortenson's school-building nonprofit, the Bozeman, Montana-based Central Asia Institute.

Krakauer was once a Mortenson supporter who donated over $75,000 to CAI. But he severed those ties in 2004, troubled by high turnover on CAI's board and by what he calls Mortenson’s lack of accountability.

Jon Krakauer
  • Jon Krakauer

Since 1996, CAI has raised more than $60 million — much of it from devoted readers of Mortenson’s books. But Krakauer claims that Mortenson, a former Berkeley nurse who has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize — has misused millions of dollars of these donations and has lied about important aspects of his work, according to a bulletin just received from Byliner, Inc.

In the spring of 2010, Krakauer finally read Three Cups of Tea. Familiar with the story and its author and feeling more and more skeptical with every chapter, he decided to look into some of Mortenson’s more extreme claims. According to Byliner, Krakauer "discovered that many of the anecdotes in Mortenson’s books — which Mortenson repeats again and again in his sold-out lectures around the world — are outright fiction, including his popular account of being held hostage for eight days by the Taliban.

Greg Mortenson
  • Greg Mortenson

"Worse, Mortenson has grossly misused CAI funds. In addition to refusing to account for millions of dollars spent in the field on CAI business, Mortenson continues to bill expenses related to his speaking engagements (including chartered jets and deluxe hotels) to CAI, which receives no royalties from Mortenson’s bestsellers. For accounting purposes, CAI reports these vast sums as 'program expenses,' giving donors the impression that a high percentage of their money is going to the construction and staffing of CAI’s schools."

According to 60 Minutes, many CAI schools now stand empty, and many of those that Mortenson claims to have built simply do not exist.

“Mortenson started with noble intentions and a great idea,” Krakauer said. “He has built dozens of schools that have educated thousands of kids in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He deserves credit for that. But very soon after he launched CAI, he lost his moral bearings. He betrayed the trust of countless people, including myself. I’d like to support CAI again someday, when it’s under different leadership. That part of the world needs all the effective help it can get. But with Mortenson running things, the organization went badly off the rails.”

At Krakauer’s request, Three Cups of Deceit will be available as a free, downloadable PDF for 72 hours. After that, the story will be sold as a Kindle Single for $2.99. All of Krakauer’s proceeds from the sale of Three Cups of Deceit will be donated to the American Himalayan Foundation's STOP Girl Trafficking program.

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