Greg Mortenson Responds

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Unless you’ve been trekking through the jungles of Borneo or living under a rock the last few days, chances are you’ve heard about the recent controversy that has erupted around Greg Mortenson, of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools fame, over the veracity of his bestselling books and the finances of his non-profit organization, the Central Asia Institute. This all coming on the heels of a stinging report that aired Sunday night on 60 Minutes, which featured interviews with one-time donor and bestselling author Jon Krakauer, as well as various past acquaintances, including his one-time hiking partner and several Pakistanis.

After watching the piece last night myself, it seems the biggest charges leveled against Greg are related to the accuracy of some of the stories he told in his books — including those involving being abducted by Taliban members and his discovery of the village of Korphe following a doomed hike up K-2 — as well as the co-mingling of funds donated to the charity he founded and how those funds are used, as 60 Minutes put it, to support his “book tour.”

In an interesting rebuttal to the piece, Outside Magazine published this exclusive interview on Monday with Greg addressing the accusations and pointedly inquiring about the facts as stated in his book. For those who have read the books, it is more than apparent that Greg is self-confessedly not the best businessman, whether it involve punctuality, money issues, time management, or organization. All of this comports with what Greg tells Outside, such as how the stories were put together:

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? [Literary license.]

In response to accusations that donor money is being spent on travel costs including charter flights to pay for speaking engagements related to the books, Greg has this to say:

Donors could really care less, I guess, but I was spending more and more time away from my family, and it was really having a huge impact on my wife and kids. Using charter flights, which I only started doing in 2009, allowed me to pack in many more cities. I get about 2,400 speaking requests a year. About 400 of the ones last year were offering to pay money. So I mix them. And, since January, I have totally paid for all my own travel.

Interestingly, Greg explains that a recent decision to extricate all references of himself and the book from CAI resulted in a drop in donations from over $8 million to less than $1 million a month.

For a copy of the full interview, click through here to Outside.

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