Greg Mortenson responds to "60 Minutes" with "I'm not a journalist"

Categories: Media, Notable MN

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Three Cups of Tea: A work of fiction?
If a story sounds too good to be true, beware. Which brings us to Minnesota native Greg Mortenson.

His book, "Three Cups of Tea," about building schools for girls in Afghanistan, is still a New York Times bestseller in paperback. The uplifting tale of local tribesmen saving the errant mountaineer's life has been the toast of book clubs. And Mortenson has advised the U.S. military on how to win Afghan heats and minds.

Trouble is, his whole narrative may be based on a lie, at least according to people interviewed last night on "60 Minutes."

In Mortenson's telling, he staggered off a failed 1993 attempt to climb K2, the second highest mountain the world, and stumbled into an Afghan village named Korphe. The locals nursed him back to life. He launched the Central Asia Institute, and began building schools for girls in Afghanistan, as a way of saying thanks - and trying to do some good in the world. The book chronicles his work.

But "60 Minutes" alleges that Mortenson's story is full of holes; the mountaineering adventure and some of the schools are just made up, plain and simple.

Today, he told Outside Magazine that his ghost writer, David Oliver Relin, may have taken some poetic license with the facts.

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Greg Mortenson: Fiction writer?
"I'm not a journalist," he says.

"What happens then is, when you re-create the scenes, you have my recollections, the different memories of those involved, you have his writing, and sometimes things come out different. In order to be convenient, there were some omissions. If we included everything I did from 1993 to 2003 it would take three books to write it. So there were some omissions and compressions, and ... I don't know, what that's called?"

Maybe that's called, "Reshelf the book under 'fiction.'" Or maybe not.

Today, former Star Tribune reporter Sharon Schmickle writes in MinnPost about how close she came close to drinking Mortenson's tea. In a 2004 report, she wove the school-building story into a larger piece about how the Taliban fights efforts to educate girls. But she did it without talking about the mountaineering failure and Mortenson's experience in Korphe. He was "a Minnesota native who has spent the past decade creating schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan."

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The only specific CAI school Schmickle mentions in her Strib story was one she saw with her own eyes.

The Bozeman Chronicle in Montana, where Mortenson makes his U.S. home and is something of a local legend, has a different problem.

It turns out that Karin Ronnow, the paper's assistant managing editor, has been wearing two hats: Covering Mortenson and visiting some of his schools, while also producing CAI's annual report, "Journey of Hope."

The Chronicle took the trouble to mention that conflict of interest on Friday -- and then quoted her positive assessment of Mortenson anyway.

Ronnow, who did not participate in the writing or editing of this story, said what she has seen of Mortenson's character during that time does not match the accusations he now faces.

Whether you call this mess the result of creative editing or outright fabrication, the upshot is that a Ramsey High School graduate, born in St. Cloud to missionary parents, and who appears to have honestly tried to do good in the world is now under a cloud of suspicion.

Watch the "60 Minutes" segment here. Read the "60 Minutes" story here.

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6 comments
Patent Attorney
Patent Attorney

Here is a similar story

An American author and self-styled philanthropist has fought back against allegations he used the multi-million dollar organisation he founded - and which received a donation from President Obama - as his own 'private ATM'.

Greg Mortenson, who built the non-profit Central Asia Institute after writing inspirational accounts of his visits to remote tribal areas, was also accused of falsifying key elements of his memoir, Three Cups of Tea.

But on Monday he issued a statement denying the allegations, broadcast by CBS's 60 Minutes, claiming the program had not given a 'fair, balanced or objective representation' of his work.

MJspeculator
MJspeculator

@Blackwhitecat95

The big deal is that what he did was a felony. He lied on many IRS documents , broke several laws regarding his taxes, and he did it all for stupid reasons. He did it all to make himself look like a saint when he already did. He lied about many schools he says he funded but the schools that he DID fund make him look like a hero to Afghan and Pakistanis. By lying he just screwed himself over. If he told things as they happened he would still become a successful humanitarian.

Gene
Gene

The word is "reshelve," not "reshelf."

Blackwhitecat95
Blackwhitecat95

This is ridiculous. So what if it is not a factual account? The point of this great organization (CAI) is to provide an education to the girls in a poverty-stricken area, a place known only for violence and illiteracy. Now the children there can have a better life than their parents. These so-called "investigators" from 60 minutes should get a life and investigate real life tradegies, like the puppy mills in MN.

truth
truth

So what if is not a factual account? WTF? It was presented as a NON FICTION story - and most of it, apparently, is a complete fabrication. Not only that, but read Krakauer's story --- he's grossly mismanaging the donations that he is receiving so he can stay in luxurious hotels and fly on charter jets. And many (if not most) of the schools are just unused buildings. It's disgusting.

vitajex
vitajex

This backlash will never gain traction until Oprah brings him on and brow-beats him in front of millions.

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