The latest in the Greg Mortenson controversy: His climbing partner responds
This post has been corrected. Please see the note below.
Greg Mortenson's climbing companion Scott Darsney has been offline in Nepal since a "60 Minutes" story threw into question Mortenson's account in his bestselling book "Three Cups of Tea" and the fiscal management at his nonprofit foundation, the Central Asia Institute.
The "60 Minutes" report, which included questions raised by another bestselling author, Jon Krakauer ("Into Thin Air"), was followed by a 75-page report by Krakauer, "Three Cups of Deceit." First made available on a new website, Byliner.com, "Three Cups of Deceit" is now available digitally from Amazon, and holds the bestselling spot on the Kindle Single list.
Darsney had spoken with Krakauer. Now, after getting a chance to see the questions raised about Mortenson and "Three Cups of Tea," he seems to be backtracking on some of his statements.
He sent an email to Outside Magazine, which was posted Tuesday on its site. For example, Outside writes:
Darsney refutes Krakauer’s debunking of Mortenson’s climbing résumé. Krakauer wrote: “Scott Darsney, Greg’s climbing partner on K2, confirms that Mortenson had never been to the Himalaya or Karakoram before going to K2.”
Darsney’s response: “I must have misspoken, or Krakauer misheard. I meant the Karakoram, not the Himalaya in general. I am pretty sure that [the 1993 K2 climb] was Greg’s first trip to Pakistan, but he had told me of his past trips to Baruntse and Annapurna IV before, for sure, and at the beginning of the 1993 trip.”
Darsney, whose account Krakauer cited in his allegations that Mortenson didn't visit Korphe on his first trip down from K2, says that he was separated from Mortenson for a time, during which Mortenson "ended up in a village on the wrong side of the Braldu River" and that "It’s certainly plausible" this was Korphe.
The Business Insider calls Darsney's email a "Non-Defense Defense" of Mortenson. In particular, it cites one paragraph:
If Greg is misappropriating funds, then show me the luxury cars, fancy boats, and closets full of shoes. This is not a “ministry” or a business gone corrupt. Are there not other NGOs and nonprofits that stray now and then? Don’t they also spend more internally as they get bigger, especially when growing quickly? But their intent and purpose still stay on the course of the mission.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy writes in an opinion piece, "A charity must serve a public interest rather than a private one, and any financial benefits provided to an individual must be incidental compared with the amount spent to advance a charity’s tax-exempt purposes." There seems to be some confusion over the "purposes" part of Mortenson's Central Asia Institute, which billed its primary purpose as building and supporting schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The article says:
The shock over the institute’s spending is due in part to the mixed messages contained in its informational tax return and on its Web site. For example, the tax form for fiscal 2009 lists domestic outreach and education as the charity’s largest program expense. However, the “program” section of the institute’s Web site fails to even mention domestic outreach and lists only the programs it conducts abroad.
Last week, the leader of a Pakistani think tank who says he was misrepresented in Mortenson's books as a Taliban terrorist -- he appears in a photograph in "Stones Into Schools" -- told CNN that he was considering legal action against the author.
Meanwhile, Mortenson recently canceled an appearance scheduled for May 3 in Boston, citing an operation he'd undergone to repair a hole in his heart.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
[For the Record, April 26: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of Jon Krakauer's report.]
Photo: Greg Mortenson with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the opening of Pushghar Village Girls School, 60 miles north of Kabul in Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan, in 2009. Credit: Department of Defense / Associated Press