Investigation throws 'Three Cups of Tea' author Greg Mortenson's charity work into doubt
An investigation by "60 Minutes" to be broadcast this weekend will cite multiple sources that contend some of the most inspiring stories in Greg Mortenson's books "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones into Schools" are not true.
Significantly, Mortenson's origin story -- of being saved by a remote village in Afghanistan and promising to build a school for them -- appears to be a fabrication.
In a news release, the television program explains:
The heart of Mortenson’s “Three Cups of Tea” is the story of a failed attempt in 1993 to climb the world’s second-highest peak, K2. On the way down, Mortenson says, he got lost and stumbled, alone and exhausted, into a remote mountain village in Pakistan named Korphe. According to the book’s narrative, the villagers cared for him and he promised to return to build a school there. In a remote village in Pakistan, 60 MINUTES found Mortenson’s porters on that failed expedition. They say Mortenson didn’t get lost and stumble into Korphe on his way down from K2. He visited the village a year later.
That’s what famous author and mountaineer Jon Krakauer, a former donor to Mortenson’s charity, says he found out, too. “It’s a beautiful story. And it’s a lie,” says Krakauer. “I have spoken to one of his [Mortenson’s] companions, a close friend, who hiked out from K2 with him and this companion said, ‘Greg never heard of Korphe until a year later,’” Krakauer tells Kroft. Mortenson did eventually build a school in Korphe, Krakauer says, “But if you read the first few chapters of that book, you realize, ‘I am being taken for a ride here.’ ”
The story of Mortenson's efforts to support education in Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly their remote regions is widely known, and has helped draw many to his charity. Since opening his first school in 1997, Mortenson has been said to have been involved with establishing hundreds of schools, working with tribal leaders, Islamic clerics and militia commanders. He even survived an eight-day abduction by the Taliban.
Yet the story of his abduction has been called into question. 60 Minutes reports:
In “Three Cups of Tea,” Mortenson writes of being kidnapped in the Waziristan region of Pakistan in 1996. In his second book, “Stones into Schools,” Mortenson publishes a photograph of his alleged captors. In television appearances, he has said he was kidnapped for eight days by the Taliban. 60 MINUTES located three of the men in the photo, all of whom denied that they were Taliban and denied that they had kidnapped Mortenson. One the men in the photo is the research director of a respected think tank in Islamabad, Mansur Khan Mahsud. He tells Kroft that he and the others in the photo were Mortenson’s protectors, not his kidnappers. “We treated him as a guest and took care of him,” says Mahsud. “This is totally false and he is lying.” Asked why Mortenson would lie about the trip, Mahsud replies, “To sell his book.”
And according to "60 Minutes," Mortenson's charity, the Central Asia Institute, has spent more money in the the U.S. talking about education in Pakistan and Afghanistan than actually building and supporting schools there. The television program talks to charity waltchdog group that has concerns about the financial management of the group.
Who didn't they talk to? Greg Mortenson, who did not respond to their requests for an interview.
-- Carolyn Kellogg