Greg Mortenson, Three Cups of Tea Author Under Fire, Cancels Local Appearance

Categories: OC Bookly, TV
Did you catch Steve Kroft's 60 Minutes report in April questioning experiences in Afghanistan and Pakistan Greg Mortenson related in his bestsellers Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, as well as the way funds are allocated to his international charity Central Asia Institute?

At that time, Mortenson was canceling appearances and dodging Kroft's interrogation. Mortenson later responded to some of the discrepancies. But when it comes to one local appearance, the author is still pulling a no show.

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The Daily Pilot reports that Mortenson's agent at publishing house Penguin yanked the author from his scheduled Saturday appearance at the OASIS Senior Center in Corona del Mar as part of the Newport Beach Public Library Foundation's Martin W. Witte Distinguished Speakers Lecture Series. The advice to cancel apparently came from Mortenson's lawyer, and the author has reportedly scrubbed all speaking engagements for the rest of this year.

The 60 Minutes segment was actually based on the account of another author, Jon Krakauer, who challenged some of Mortenson's assertions in the exposé "Three Cups of Deceit." Krakauer, mountaineers and several people who knew Mortenson during his Afghanistan and Pakistan trips questioned for the CBS news program the timing of events Mortenson purported, whether the author was really kidnapped by the Taliban as he asserted and, most damning of all, whether schools his nonprofit raised money for were ever built or, if they were, ever operated when cameras were not around after the ribbon cuttings. Some were abandoned by the time 60 Minutes' cameras pulled up.

Mortenson apparently told Montana's Bozeman Daily Chronicle that he compressed some events in his life story for the sake of storytelling. And he defended his charity's work, saying he has donated more than $100,000 of his own money to the institute and did some speaking engagements for free. The Corona del Mar appearance was not one of those. He'd been contracted to receive $38,000, and the nonprofit library foundation would have lost a $19,000 deposit if it cancelled, even after the exposés.

Now, with Penguin pulling the plug, the money will be returned to the foundation, as will the price of tickets to the 150 who'd already purchased seats to hear Mortenson's tales.

Here is the 60 Minutes report:

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Guy Montag
Guy Montag

"The '60 Minutes' segment was actually based on the account of another author, Jon Krakauer, who challenged some of Mortenson's assertions in the exposé "Three Cups of Deceit.". . .

"It's [“Into Thin Air”] there in print forever.  It's part of history.   People should be above taking someone else down.   And for what?   For money and egos people are willing to destroy other people to further their careers." -- David Breashears, (“Improper Bostonian”, Sept 24, 1997) On April 17, 2011 CBS’s “60 Minutes” aired their expose of Greg Mortenson (best-selling author of “Three Cups of Tea”).  Jon Krakauer (best-selling author of “Into Thin Air”) said that Mortenson tells a “beautiful story, and it’s a lie” and “uses Central Asia Institute (CAI) as his private ATM machine.” This expose resulted in a dramatic drop in Mortenson’s book sales and donations to CAI.   So, it’s rather ironic that after his break with Mortenson in 2004, Krakauer had written:  “I still believe in CAI’s mission … I don’t want to make any public statements that would have a negative impact on Greg’s work….”   

So then, seven years later, what prompted Jon Krakauer to speak out on “60 Minutes” and write his e-book “Three Cups of Deceit”?  Well, Krakauer was not just a “jilted crank” or “crusading do-gooder” outraged by literary deceit and lax accounting practices.   It appears that Krakauer’s e-book was also a publicity stunt whose publication was timed with the “60 Minutes” broadcast (that was largely based on research spoon-fed to them by Krakauer) to create the “buzz” to raise the investment capital needed to launch his old friend Mark Bryant’s start-up of

Once Mortenson comes out of seclusion, he certainly needs to answer questions about his literary and financial practices.   However, I believe Krakauer also needs to answer questions about how he “got onto the Mortenson story” (but, like Mortenson, Krakauer isn’t talking to the press).

And, while it certainly appears that Greg Mortenson confabulated parts of his ”inspirational story,” Jon Krakauer has also had “credibility problems” with his own books.   Krakauer displayed hypocrisy by “throwing stones” when his own hands are not clean of deceit.  Overall, I believe Daniel Glick (at has offered the most balanced commentary on this affair:  “[‘60 Minutes’ and Jon Krakauer’s assault was overkill] lacking in basic elements of fairness, balance, perspective, insight and context. … Mortenson is neither a saint nor a charlatan; Krakauer is not either a jilted crank or a crusading do-gooder.  There are nuances, debatable “facts” and conflicting motivations in almost every situation, messy and at times seemingly irreconcilable.  This is no exception.”. . .

Note:  An un-abridged version of this post (with hyperlinks, more detailed quotes, and complete references can be found in the chapter, “With Three Cups of Luck,” in the post, “Jon Krakauer’s Credibility Problem” at

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