Three Cups of Tea


Update on Greg Mortenson and ‘Three Cups of Deceit’ | 


Greg Mortenson

Author and philanthropist Greg “Three Cups of Tea” Mortenson is back in the news with his attorneys asking a judge to toss out a lawsuit that accuses him of defrauding readers and donors.

For a quick reminder of what Mortenson is accused of, you can read Jon Krakauer’s devastating critique and online booklet Three Cups of Deceit – or my synopsis of it, Ten Sips from Three Cups of Deceit.

According to the Associated Press, Mortenson is basing his defense on another author, James Frey, who was made infamous on the Oprah Winfrey Show where he was first celebrated and then later exposed for fabricating much of his story.

“Plaintiffs should not be allowed to create a world where authors are exposed to the debilitating expense of class action litigation just because someone believes a book contains inaccuracies,” contends Mortenson’s attorney John Kauffman.

In Mortenson’s case, however, the alleged fictional accounts in his books were used to not just sell the books but also to raise funds for his philanthropy, the Central Asia Institute, which builds schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As stated in the AP story:

The lawsuit accuses the Montana resident of being involved in a racketeering scheme to turn him into a false hero, defraud millions of people out of the price of the books and raise millions in donations to the charity. The other defendants allegedly in on the scheme are co-author David Relin, publisher Penguin Group and Mortenson’s Bozeman-based charity, Central Asia Institute.


Three Cups of Tea lawsuit could open door to others | 

Wikipedia, Penguin

Three Cups of Tea

The Chronicle of Philanthropy is reporting that a lawsuit filed against Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, and his organization, the Central Asia Institute, could open the door to further lawsuits — at other charitable organizations.

As you will recall, or can read here, Mortenson and his philanthropy have been accused of a number of things, including fabricating aspects of his inspiring narrative but, more seriously, misusing funds and misleading donors.

The Chronicle’s Debra E. Blum reports:

The complaint, filed last week in a U.S. District Court in Montana, alleges that Mr. Mortenson and the institute fraudulently solicited donations and earned book profits based on his claims about his experiences in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The lawsuit stems from investigations by the “60 Minutes” news show and the author Jon Krakauer that have cast doubts about Mr. Mortenson’s accounts of his charity’s work and his own adventures. If the lawsuit is granted class-action status, Mr. Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute could be on the hook to return millions of dollars in donations and proceeds from the books.

Of broader interest to the philanthropic community are those who say these lawsuits could reverberate well beyond Mortenson and his charity. The Chronicle:

Legal experts say that if the case, which is seeking class-action status, is allowed to proceed, it would give unprecedented recourse to people who feel they were duped into supporting a charity. It would also, they say, leave charities vulnerable to damaging lawsuits by unhappy donors and customers.

Some experts think the legal complaint is unlikely to proceed. One Chicago legal expert, Jack Siegel, quoted in the article put it this way:

“It’s like saying that everybody who learned that John Edwards was not necessarily the clean-cut guy they thought he was is now entitled to ask for their campaign contributions back,” Siegel says.

Greg Mortenson offers three weak cups of defense | 

Wikipedia, Penguin

Three Cups of Tea

Greg Mortenson and his philanthropy, the Central Asia Institute (CAI), have offered up another incomplete defense against allegations of misappropriated funds, fabricated stories and a failure to follow through on humanitarian projects funded by donors.

Meanwhile, two Montana lawmakers are suing Mortenson and Bozeman-based CAI alleging fraud, deceit and racketeering.

Outside magazine, which initially gave first voice to Mortenson’s defense with an exclusive (and somewhat sympathetic or at least unquestioning) interview, published this article upon receiving an advance copy of the CAI’s newsletter in which the Institute and Mortenson rebut some of the critics. Continue reading

Three Cups of Tea update | 

Wikipedia, Penguin

Three Cups of Tea

The uproar over Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, continues.

The most complete collection of articles and posts written in response to the allegations of wrongdoing raised first by CBS’ 60 Minutes and, in greater detail, by former supporter and author Jon Krakauer’s Three Cups of Deceit can be found at the blog Good Intentions are Not Enough.

I won’t try to summarize the debate at this point, but I did want to take note of a few articles that I think raise some good points about our desire for the “heroic narrative” in humanitarian causes.

I wrote about this last week, in a post asking if this would be a teachable moment, and spoke to KUOW’s Steve Scher on Weekday about the danger so common in DIY aid of even well-intended people conflating their own personal success, as a leader, with the success of the mission.

Here are some more articles along similar lines:

The New Yorker: What Greg Mortenson Got Wrong

Alex Stonehill, Common Language Project: Greg Mortenson and Leadership Narrative Lies

The Guardian: Greg Mortenson’s Flawed One-Man Mission in Pakistan

Forbes: Doing Good is Hard Work

Three Cups of Tea: A teachable moment? | 

Wikipedia, Penguin

Three Cups of Tea

The debate about Greg “Three Cups of Tea” Mortenson is raging, and will rage for awhile.

There’s plenty to read out there (here’s a list of more than 80 articles compiled by Good Intentions are Not Enough) — from diatribes that condemn Mortenson as a self-promoting fraud to those who contend the critics are illegitimately focusing only on his failures while neglecting the many positive things he has achieved.

I posted yesterday on the critique written by former Mortenson supporter and fellow climber-author Jon Krakauer, because it appears to be the most informed. Krakauer was there (donating $75,000 to Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute) in the beginning — much of which, it turns out, took place in Seattle — and from his reporting I’d say he knows more than most about how this attempted ascent in humanitarianism has been foiled by an avalanche of misdeeds and poor judgment.

Krakauer’s online booklet, Three Cups of Deceit, emphasizes the bad (because that’s what’s new here) but does take brief note of the good. Anyone who wants to know what happened here should read this.

We are now in the point-counterpoint stage. The points and counterpoints are just going to keep piling up like scree on the side of a mountain, with detractors and supporters tossing rocks at each other.

But what can the rest of us learn from this debacle? Continue reading

Ten sips from “Three Cups of Deceit” — starting in Seattle | 

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Jon Krakauer describes Greg Mortenson’s “Three Cups of Deceit,” and its Seattle origins.

By now, most of you have probably heard something about the allegations of literary fabrication and financial misdeeds of the celebrated humanitarian Greg Mortenson, author of the inspiring book Three Cups of Tea.

The accusations were aired on CBS last Sunday, on 60 Minutes.

Now, fellow mountain climber and author Jon Krakauer — one of the early Seattle supporters of Mortenson’s philanthropic efforts — has written a much more detailed, and potentially devastating, account of what he says went wrong with this effort to bring education and empowerment to the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It all began in Seattle. Continue reading

Greg Mortenson: Three cups to the wind? | 

Wikipedia, Penguin

Three Cups of Tea

Greg Mortenson, the celebrated author of Three Cups of Tea who has been perhaps the world’s leading advocate for girl’s education in Pakistan and Afghanistan, is facing some serious allegations of both literary and financial wrongdoings.

On Sunday’s CBS News 60 Minutes, Mortenson is accused of fabricating key parts of his story, using a high proportion of the funds raised by his philanthropy for personal benefit and misleading donors.

Fellow mountain climber and writer Jon Krakauer, who was one of the early donors and supporters of Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute, is interviewed on the TV news show and says of the story told in Three Cups of Tea that inspired the philanthropy:

“It’s a beautiful story and it’s a lie.”

Mortenson, who refused to be interviewed by 60 Minutes, sent out an email to supporters and staff:

“As those of you who know me and have supported my work over the years will recognize, the story being framed by ’60 Minutes’ to air in a few hours today — as far as we can tell — 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.”

His Institute’s website has several responses to the 60 Minutes piece, including this response from the board of directors in which they respond in detail to the claims made against Mortenson.

The New York Times has a story that tends to focus largely on the allegations of literary fabrications or distortions.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle (where Mortenson lives and his philanthropy is based) has a story based on one of the few interviews Mortenson has given responding to the allegations.

ABC News has a story that leads with Mortenson’s rebuttal of the 60 Minutes’ claims.

Here is a link to the video of the 60 Minutes interview.

Aid work: No three cups of tea | 

Wikipedia, Penguin

Three Cups of Tea

The book by Greg Mortenson entitled “Three Cups of Tea” has inspired a lot of people to get into, or at least consider, doing humanitarian and development work.

Here’s a post from the popular anonymous aid/development worker who blogs as Tales From the Hood, a person who does this kind of work but isn’t at all inspired by Mortenson. In fact, he/she is highly irritated by the book. An excerpt from the post Three Shots of Vodka:

In my heart of hearts, I wish that Three Cups of Tea was a realistic description of aid work. Actually, you know what? Right now I’d actually settle for it being a partially accurate description of aid work.

But Three Cups of Tea is not a realistic description. It does not paint an accurate picture.

The reality of aid work is that it is a lot of test and spreadsheet bitchery. It is a lot of hunching over a laptop computer, late at night in sweltering heat (or bitter cold) banging out a report to satisfy a needy internal constituent who fails to understand the context. It is a lot of meeting donor reporting deadlines in particular donor formats. It is a lot of arguing with people who see the world very differently. It is a lot of trying to understand, and then explain why things have not gone as planned.