Monday, April 18, 2011

Greg Mortenson refutes 60 Minutes story

In case you missed "60 Minutes" last night, Steve Kroft filed a story that makes allegations against the charity Central Asia Institute and it's founder Greg Mortenson. The story says that tales from Mortenson's book "Three Cups of Tea" has been fabricated and that much of the money raised by CAI goes to help fund speaking engagements by Mortenson instead of for the charity's stated purpose.

We have been doing this blog since 2005, and in all of that time we have only linked to one story featuring Greg Mortonson. It was an interview that Howard B. Schiffer conducted with both Mortenson and Jeffery Sachs on how to answer the world's biggest problems. Mortenson recites the story that has now been alleged as false in the 60 Minutes story.

The newspaper from Mortenson's hometown, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle received a phone call from the man himself to refute the allegations. However, writer Gail Schontzler says that statement released by CAI does seem to make one retraction.

"I hope these allegations and attacks, the people doing these things, know this could be devastating for tens of thousands of girls, for the sake of Nielsen ratings and Emmys," Mortenson told the Chronicle in a phone interview Friday.

"I stand by the information conveyed in my book," he wrote in a statement, "and by the value of CAI's work in empowering local communities to build and operate schools that have educated more than 60,000 students."

Mortenson said CAI's success in fundraising - last year it raised $23.7 million - means it can build 63 new schools this year, in addition to more than 170 already established.

He denied several "60 Minutes" allegations, and defended his financial dealings, but appeared to concede that one key story in his book was not literally true.

The investigation by correspondent Steve Kroft, to be broadcast Sunday night, quotes "Into Thin Air" author and mountaineer Jon Krakauer as saying he learned from one of Mortenson's companions that the tale of how Mortenson got started was "a beautiful story" but "a lie."

The book told how Mortenson got lost on a 1993 climb of K2, the world's second highest peak, and then stumbled exhausted into the remote village of Korphe, was cared for by villagers, and promised to return and build a school.

"I stand by the story of ‘Three Cups of Tea,'" Mortenson said in a written statement, but added, "The time about our final days on K2 and ongoing journey to Korphe village and Skardu is a compressed version of events that took place in the fall of 1993.

"As the co-author of the book, along with David Oliver Relin, I am responsible for the content in the book. There were many people involved in the story and also those who produced the manuscript. What was done was to simplify the sequence of events for the purposes of telling what was, at times, a complicated story."

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