Tuesday, April 19, 2011

All Cups, No Tea?

If these allegations about Greg Mortenson prove true, this is a tremendous disappointment. Ali gave me a copy of Mortenson's book, Three Cups of Tea, a couple years ago. I loved the book and had been a big fan of Mortenson's work. Now it looks like he has exaggerated much of what he's done and engaged in some pretty serious fabrications and lack of financial oversight.

Another humanitarian hero has tumbled off his pedestal.

It remains to be seen whether Greg Mortenson, author of the best-selling “Three Cups of Tea,” will be able to avert a total reputation meltdown. But last Sunday’s 60 Minutes broadcast and a thorough exposé by Jon Krakauer provide convincing evidence for some serious allegations:

  • That some of the most important, inspiring stories in Mortenson’s nonfiction books—stories that provide the foundation for his whole mission—fall somewhere on the spectrum between greatly exaggerated and completely invented.
  • That Mortenson’s charity, the Central Asia Institute (CAI) lacks sufficient transparency and oversight.
  • That some not insignificant number of schools Mortenson claims to have built in Afghanistan and Pakistan either aren’t being supported by CAI, aren’t being used as schools, or don’t exist at all.

Mortenson refuted the allegations in a letter to his supporters, saying that the story “paints a distorted picture using inaccurate information, innuendo and a microscopic focus on one year’s (2009) IRS 990 financial, and a few points in the book ‘Three Cups of Tea’ that occurred almost 18 years ago.” But the rebuttals he’s provided so far do little to counter the weight of evidence against him.

What surprises me most about the story is not that yet another development demigod turned out to be a human.

What surprises me most is the way Mortenson’s charity—embraced by the US military and admired by President Obama, Oprah and literally millions of Americans—has managed to avoid scrutiny of its spending priorities for so long.
Read the whole thing and be sure to watch the 60 Minutes video.

More on this by Megan McArdle.

Jon Krakauer has an eBook on this called Three Cups of Deceit. It's available for free [PDF] through tomorrow.

Like I said, this is tremendously disappointing.

1 comment:

thinking said...

How sad indeed.

However, it doesn't surprise me that this individual and his charity managed to avoid scrutiny for so long. Whether it's charities, businesses, politicians, celebrities, churches, etc...people get away with a lot for a long time. We like to think there is this infallible network of accountability but there is not. Look at the case of Bernie Madoff.

Also, people want to believe in something good, something noble...so when this story comes along it's natural that he be given the benefit of the doubt and the presumption of good faith. Listen to the song "Reason to Believe" by Bruce Springsteen...it's a very sad song that captures this aspect of human nature so beautifully.