60 Minutes expose on Three Cups of Tea is weak – and wrong.

I believe in the importance of journalism to ferret out charlatans, expose financial fraud, and hold people and institutions accountable.  That said, it’s hard to believe why 60 Minutes decided that Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute qualified on any of those fronts – much less why Jon Krakauer joined in this recent barrage.

Let’s get my full disclosure out right away:  I have no dog and no yak in this fight, except to express my outrage at a high-profile hatchet job of a man I met once 14 years ago in the now-fabled Pakistani village of Korphe, site of Mortenson’s first school.  I don’t know Steve Kroft, except that he interviewed me once for a 60 Minutes segment on the Earth Liberation Front, a subject of my first book.  It was a pleasant experience.  I have never met Krakauer, although we once exchanged phone messages and have some mutual friends and acquaintances.

I met Greg Mortenson in Pakistan in 1998, years before he hit national headlines.  I was on an assignment from Blue magazine to write a profile of Brent Bishop, Mortenson’s brother-in-law, who lead a trash cleanup near K2 and tried to begin a porter training program in Baltistan.  Bishop introduced me to his brother-in-law in Islamabad, and we all traveled by bus up the Indus River Valley to Skardu and ultimately by jeep and foot to Korphe.  We stayed in the simple house of the village headman – the late Haji Ali – and felt the stark, cold, subsistence edge of a high mountain village only accessible on foot.  The school’s first teacher helped me carry my gear on our hike up to Concordia, a wide spot on a glacier on the way to K2.

Mortenson was one of the more interesting people I had met in a lifetime of traveling and writing about interesting people.  He was humble, dressed in a dirty shalwar kameez, and seemed about as guileless as anybody I had ever met, with an almost monkish disregard for consumerism or popular culture.  He was a bit naïve, it seemed to me, but was obviously pleased with the bridge over the Braldu River that he had helped build, as well as the school in Korphe.  Haji Ali and the other Baltis treated him with great affection and respect.  He returned the gestures in word and deed.

I spoke a lot with Mortenson about his new Central Asia Institute, and his idea to build more schools to provide opportunities for young girls to get an education.  He told me the now-disputed story about his first visit to Korphe after his failed summit attempt on K2 – and his inspiration to build a school there.  When we returned to the relative metropolis of Skardu, I sat in on meetings he held with local mullahs, and visited a vocational school for young women that Mortenson said he had helped to get off the ground.  His comments about drinking a lot of tea can be easily verified.

I returned from that trip and – no disrespect for Brent and his clean-up work – said to myself, “Greg is the real story here.”  To my everlasting regret, I never wrote that story.

On the strength of my impressions from that visit alone, I find myself ready to defend Mortenson against what I believe is a seriously deficient 60 Minutes segment, lacking in basic elements of fairness, balance, perspective, insight and context.  I was taught in journalism school that if you’re going to take somebody out with a story, do it in a way that you could look that person in the eye in the grocery market the next day.  I doubt Steve Kroft – or Jon Krakauer – could do that.  Both of them apparently tried to contact Mortenson only at the last minute, which is something that journalists will do when they are after a pro-forma denial, rather than an interview to ascertain truth or even get another side of the story.  From Mortenson’s accounts, both on the CAI website and in his interview with Outside online, it’s clear that the fog of development work may be no less confusing than the fog of war.

I cannot go through the chapter and verse that Krakauer did in his online assassination of Mortenson, and I am certain that he has alienated people and kept bad books.  From a few conversations I’ve had today with people who have known Mortenson for years, I have no reason to doubt that Mortenson can be difficult, unconventional, poorly organized, and chronically late to appointments.  He is probably ill-suited to run a $20-million-dollar a year non-profit, and seems stubborn enough to ignore good advice from people who otherwise appreciate his work and message.  Despite the inference that since he sometimes travels by private jet he must be profligate, there is no evidence I’m aware of that Mortenson lives lavishly.  He doesn’t comb his hair much, either, as I recall.

But here’s the crux for me.  As somebody who has worked in a Muslim country (I was a Knight International Press Fellow working in Algeria in 2006), I know that Americans need a lot of bridge building in the Islamic world.  Mortenson has gone where few others have gone, and has put in incredible time and energy to raise awareness, seed schools, and give girls opportunities for education that would not be theirs otherwise.  I have no doubt he has done orders of magnitude more good than harm.  The same cannot be said for a lot of NGOs doing development work around the world, much less our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And, I’m afraid, it cannot be said of the pieces that 60 Minutes and Krakauer have just spewed out.

 

 

 

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102 Responses to 60 Minutes expose on Three Cups of Tea is weak – and wrong.

  1. Waqas says:

    I’m based in Pakistan and I totally agree with you. I really think one of your following comments totally nailed it

    I know that Americans need a lot of bridge building in the Islamic world. Mortenson has gone where few others have gone, and has put in incredible time and energy to raise awareness, seed schools, and give girls opportunities for education that would not be theirs otherwise. I have no doubt he has done orders of magnitude more good than harm. The same cannot be said for a lot of NGOs doing development work around the world, much less our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Spot on.

  2. Phil says:

    It’s very easy to throw stones and very difficult to change the world. Props to Greg for not giving up or selling out; props to you for standing up for him.

  3. Rosheen Mahmood says:

    It is heartwarming to read your article as I felt sick to the stomach after rading the one written by 60 minutes. what is even more upsetting is the fact that when badly researched articles get published, especially by such well respected sources, projects like these lose precious funding….and as a result all the hard work put by many and the dreams of the recipients go down the drain. I hope you can get an equal forum to express your views and the feedback on the research that you did in Korphe.

  4. Chris says:

    There are two sides to every story, sadly people just cling to one story and ignore the real truth. I wish Krakauer instead of accusing Mortenson should go and do the same projects in Afghanistan and let us see how far he goes on that. CBS on the other hand doesn’t expose the real Financial fraud in Wall Street but does a half-baked job like you say. Because of this episode, Mortenson doesn’t lose much, the Afghani girls and the school projects will take a big hit for a number of years.

    • Kate O'Hehir says:

      He’s lost his reputation and perhaps the entire CAI, that is not nothing, but I agree with you it’s the children in Afghanistan who will suffer over a battle of what amounts to whose ego is bigger than whose?

  5. Lori Miller says:

    Thank you, Daniel – you have a new fan. I met and was moved by Greg when he spoke to the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. Your description of him is perfect. Humble, guileless, charmingly unkempt and about 45 minutes late! It’s maddening to see his name and mission dragged through the mud like this.

  6. Randall Curtis says:

    Thank you for your piece. Your point about how few Americans have bothered to make that kind of commitment to improving relations with the Islamic world transcends any failure to be perfectly organized, tolerant of fools and well combed.

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  10. omar says:

    Sorry fans but I call foul.

    I have seen no material response from Greg or CAI regarding the question of ghost schools or responses to accusations that public statements about money for teacher training have been totally inaccurate. Furthermore, the accusation that the lack of monitoring of schools lead CAI to totally fabricate attendance and funding #s to an auditor is particularly damning.

    Have y’all ever heard of partners in health? They do health work in particularly poor regions but have made transparency about their actions a key mark of their organization. I don’t buy the Afghanistan is difficult”

      • bill says:

        Wow. I really find this whole episode very troubling in so many ways. Sorry, but I don’t buy the whole, “so what if he’s a pathological liar and sociopath, he’s still a good guy” nonsense you’re peddling here Mr. Glick. Hey, John Gotti did good things for his family. Shouldn’t he be let off the hook as well. Hitler improved the German economy at a time that it was in the tank. he must have been a good guy.

        And if you’re going to call Krakauer’s expose an “assassination” shouldn’t you have some facts to back it up. I’d say your blog is the assassination. You should be ashamed of yourself. I never read Three Cups of Tea but so many of his lies are easy to catch so it is pretty funny that he got away with it so long. And his lies on Saturday are easy to refute as well. The guy truly seems pathological and that’s a frightening thing for someone who has been given so much power to influence people.

        • Kate O'Hehir says:

          Read the damn book. Where do you get the analogy of Mortenson with John Gotti? Dude, you really have some reading to catch up on! Read Mortenson, read Krakauer, then give an opinion.

          • wade says:

            “Read the damn book” tsk tsk ..read when mother Tersa died .Must of been a bit dicey, Greg at her bedside three years after her death

    • menomnon says:

      Partners In Health? There’s a book about that as well and while it hasn’t sold as well as “Three Cups of Tea”, I think it’s done quite all right anyway:

      http://www.amazon.com/Mountains-Beyond-Farmer-Random-Readers/dp/0812980557/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1303353231&sr=1-1

      Recommended. Dr. Paul Farmer is the real deal – and I think Greg Mortenson is as well.

      Let’s see … Krakauer wrote “Into the Wild” (ick) and “Into Thin Air” (yuck). I now I see he’s written his version of the Pat Tillman story!

      Literary rubber necking – but very profitable.

      Oh yes – Ted Callahan?

      http://zeroanthropology.net/2010/08/29/the-loaded-goat-revisiting-pine-cone-anthropology-in-afghanistan/

      Sounds like an impeachable source.

      • Kate O'Hehir says:

        P.S. Krakauer’s net worth is $35 million. And every dollar was made by writing about the bizarre death’s of other people’s heroes, something he will never be.

    • Kate O'Hehir says:

      You would have a point if Partners in Health were in Afghanistan which they are not, and we are talking about educating girls, which would have automatic improvements in health. GM received $160,000 in compensation from CAI in 2009 and PIH CFO received $150,466. So what is your point exactly?

  11. omar says:

    Damn hit send to quick. Basically excuses about difficult work conditions and his ability to help us understand the Muslim world do not justify the behavior he and his organization are accused of. I wish he’d provide a material response.

  12. Wendy Redal says:

    What yak do you think Krakauer has in this fight? While I can understand his dismay, even anger, over Mortenson’s apparent deceit and other failings, his attack seems especially vitriolic. Any insight, Dan? And I share one of the previous commenters view: not that this isn’t a legitimate story, but if only such effort could be directed toward holding Wall Street titans accountable.

  13. JoAnne says:

    I agree with Daniel Glick and have written 4 posts in the last 2 days on my blog to explain why. I’d appreciate anyone who took the time to check them out.
    twitchybunnysavestheworld.blogspot.com

  14. Rmaryam says:

    Thanks Daniel we are based in New York and have a very small group of moderate Muslim Voices community, we recommended the book to many schools and people. We also put on our Facebook page asking anyone from Pakistan and Afghanistan to confirm 60 minutes allegations. Can you please confirm that over 150 schools were actually built in the region. This story is very devastating for many, and if not true then we need to stand by Mr. Mortenson and fight with him so his cause is not disrupted. This needs to be done quickly, to avoid irreversible damage to his cause and reputation.
    Thanks

    • Susan Hale Whitmore says:

      Today is August 18th ~ 4 months from and a day from the CBS / Krakauer hatchet job. We’ve all been wading through a lot of muck on the Web as we’ve continued to sort through this melee….

      But now is the time to celebrate! See http://www.ikat.org and click on Projects.

      It is truly magnificent! (And I ain’t talkin’ about the map :)

  15. Packraft says:

    We’re not talking about lazy bookkeeping – we’re talking about something closer to fraud. This defense of Mortenson does nothing to counter the serious claim that he was taking donations that were intended for rural schools and instead using them to promote his book. Doing good work doesn’t entitle you to skim money out of your non-profit – and, apparently, lie about your non-profit’s accomplishments.

    Also, where did you go to journalism school and learn that your “impressions alone” can exonerate someone of wrongdoing? Many con artists are very charming and sincere. That’s why they’re con artists.

    • Jennifer Ali says:

      I totally agree with you. I cannot understand why people are so quick to defend.

    • Kate O'Hehir says:

      I did go to journalism school and the definition of fraud includes the word “intent”. Where is the proof GM deliberately intended to defraud anyone? JK better lawyer up, because there are some serious journalistic issues here, and having one writer attack another is unprofessional for starters, there are other ways he could have gone, but then he wouldn’t have got his face on 60 minutes.

      We will see if the Montana AG agrees with Krakauer, because if he does not, he has some serious legal issues awaiting while he hides out in Boulder under his blanket of “no comment, my work speaks for itself.” That’s a coward’s response.

    • Rae says:

      He was using funds to promote his book because spreading the message about educating girls (and promoting the organization) is part of the work of the organization. It’s not a contradiction at all.

      • SSS says:

        Yes. Exactly. The 60 Minutes piece plays on American naivete. What’s the percentage of viewers with US passports again? Shameful tabloid standard work, devoid of context, factually incorrect as it turned out, and as we now watch the Murdoch crisis unfold we should be reminding ourselves that we are meant to be reporting at a higher standard here in the US.

  16. Ja says:

    Omar,

    before you cast stones – have you built a tenth of the schools this man has? Its always easy to criticize another who is doing the job. If Greg Mortenson had done nothing more than build the Korphe school – and the author is an impartial witness who says he has – than he’s still miles ahead of 99.99% of humanity.

  17. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for writing this after such a fire storm of backlash. As someone who not only has personal ties to this story (Greg’s mother Jerene was the principal of the school my mom works at, where Pennies for Peace started and I had Jerene speak at my college about Greg’s work) but also as a communications student, I cannot grasp how Steve Kroft and people at 60 Minutes researched this story for 6 months, yet didn’t make an effort to contact Greg and CAI until two weeks prior to the story running. Like you pointed out, this was not objective journalism and I am disappointed to see this showcased what I thought was a respectable journalism program.

    • bill says:

      I love this kind of garbage. 60 Minutes has said they started trying to contact Mortenson in September. Krakauer said he had contacted Mortenson through a mutual friend. Mortenson didn’t get back to either of them until the last minute.

      But here’s the most damning piece of evidence for you blind believers. There was a report out about CAI from the American Institute of Philathropy that happened long beofre the 60 Minutes piece.

      http://www.charitywatch.org/articles/CentralAsiaInstitute.html

      Did they want to bring down Mortenson, too? Did this charity watchdog have it out for him. The defenders are so full of it. But that makes sense. No one likes to admit they got conned. Which is why con men like Mortenson often flourish. And why women will marry serial killers in prison.

      • Kate O'Hehir says:

        “Greg Mortenson, con man, and women marrying serial killers in prison”? What the hell is that about? The web is full of flippant remarks that make no sense, but no doubt you feel thinner, taller and better looking for having said it.

      • SSS says:

        Contacted him through a mutual friend? You call that journalism? Are you kidding?

        Once again, I don’t think anybody here is arguing that CAI was/is not a financial mess. It is a mess like many other nonprofits of its ilk. And when I say ilk, I would like respondents to stick to apples:apples comparisons please. Whether this will merit action by the IRS remains to be seen. But I also don’t think that anyone can successfully argue, not now and not then when the piece aired, that Greg Mortensen willfully defrauded or even intended to defraud the organization. I am stupefied that 60 Minutes risked a defamation lawsuit over this. Something else is going on.

        Dan, can you see the big picture? If so, illuminate us.

  18. Jeannie Patton says:

    Thank you for the commentary. I’ve forwarded it to several people who read the book with me at The Nature Conservancy’s book group. I’m surprised at Krakaur’s involvement, too, and wonder as well what yak he has in the fight.

  19. Sue Ann Todhunter says:

    Thanks for providing a counter-point, Dan — too bad Steve didn’t interview you, too (or at least someone who might have offered a different perspective :-). I have to admit that I was terribly disappointed while watching the segment (and would still like to hear Greg’s side of the story).

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  21. I am known for exposing fraud (in the viatical and life settlements industry) and helping the victims and, when applicable, their attorneys. So I know fraud. And I do not see any cause to believe fraud exists at CAI or anywhere near Mortenson. Sure, he may have been sloppy and careless in some management aspects but, as others have said, what did Krakauer do to benefit any portion of society? Plus, the exposes of “60 Minutes” have a history of dubious fact-checking. Their once admirable news reporting has deterioriated, at times, into sensationalism and yellow journalism. This one is typical.

    I know that years ago when “60 Minutes” did a segment on the viatical industry the report would have been critical–but they were threatened by one of the most powerful companies. Which also offered an inducement to change their attitude. And so they did. I was advised to try to get the out-takes from that broadcast, to learn what the program suppressed.

    Daniel, you are one of the most respected journalists and there are few who fit that description. Most who call themselves journalists are stenographers who write or rewrite what is handed to them. They lack critical thinking skills; they are too lazy to do their own investigation; they are too lazy to learn more than what they already know.

    Your refutation of the “60 Minutes” broadcast is super. And just the beginning. We need more voices and more people who will pour over unsubstantiated or distorted charges and stand up for doing good without incurring the wrath of the envious or the politically motivated.

    • Paul says:

      What refutation is that ?
      All I read here are words saying they’re wrong.
      Nothing to refute any of the charges.
      No evidence to refute the funny money usage, just a story about how he met him and he made a school and so therefore the story has to be wrong.
      That’s not refutation and it’s not journalism.

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  23. Garrett McLarty says:

    Compensation and literary license aside, if what Jon Krakauer reports is true, Greg Mortenson is no longer effectively promoting education in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

    As is reported by the ex-staff of CAI and also Ted Callahan, Mortenson’s well intentioned efforts have become ineffective due to poor management and communication both within CAI and in the regions where he is trying to promote education.

    The issues that must be validated or proven false are whether or not CAI and Greg Mortenson are building effective schools, supporting those schools, and meeting the educational needs of the people in the region. It is clear that Mortenson has done much to educate people in the West about the needs of the people of Afghanist and Pakistan, but has opposing accountability, transparent accounting, and the recommendations of his previous board members, lead to Greg delivering what is needed to raise money instead of what is needed to educate the children he is advocating for.

    It is dangerous to set up organizations which rely almost exclusively on an individual without oversight and accountability. An earlier post cited the work of Partners in Health. Paul Farmer is not an easy person to work with either, yet he has formed an organization that is more than himself and will outlast him.

    I do not question Greg Mortenson’s motives or intentions, however if the facts presented by Krakauer and substantiated by the many ex-CAI staff who truly do believe in the mission of CAI are true, we must hold Greg and CAI responsible if we are to advocate for education and developemnt in the AF/Pak region. Good intentions are not good enough, and that appear to be the direction that CAI with Greg’s leadership have taken.

    • Paul says:

      Well said, without oversight, the temptation to spend free (i.e. donated) money as if it were your own is too great.

  24. Thomas Hager says:

    While I understand the warm feelings many people have toward Greg Mortenson personally — he seems like a nice guy who’s done some very good things in a tough part of the world — it is remarkable to me that his supporters try to imagine that it is 60 Minutes that is to blame for his troubles. It is even more remarkable to attack the show for research shortcomings. I have read Jon Krakauer’s long piece on Mortenson (and advise all here to do the same). It is a strong piece of investigative reporting, well researched, and it is echoed and amplified with remarkable reporting by the foremost news program of our time. Mortenson, by comparison, appears to have lied at great length in his book, made up stories out of whole cloth, misused his charity, and acted — whether with ill intent or not — as a charlatan. I feel badly for him, for his many supporters, for his publisher, and especially for his charity and his work. But none of that lets him off the hook.

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  26. Stu says:

    I’ve watched 60 minutes, read Krakauer’s byliner, and GM’s response from Outside.

    No doubt GM is a humanitarian, but the allegations of using the fund money for his own personal expenses, the fund’s buying of his books from Amazon to boost his ranking (not from his publisher), his holding of AK47 on his kidnappers’ photo-op, and many more…

    GM could not individually refute them. His answers are evasive and ambiguous at best.

    JK has valid beef on him, as he himself donated 75K and felt he was conned.

  27. tom says:

    I have no idea what the truth is; Mortenson may be completely innocent. If he is, he deserves an apology and probably a very big libel settlement. If he isn’t, I’m disturbed by the sentiment expressed by the author and some commentators that since he has done good, he deserves a free pass for any and all transgressions he’s committed. His good works would certainly mitigate his transgressions, but they don’t excuse them. If he committed fraud, he should be held accountable. If he has take credit for things he hasn’t done, potential contributors should know. If his book is a work of fiction, his readers deserve to know. If he’s not guilty of anything, then, as I noted already, he’s in line for big fat libel settlement–which, presumably, he can freely use in any way he sees fit, including financing a luxury lifestyle (I find it ironic that the author applauds Mortenson for his frugal ways, while it’s fairly clear Mortenson has used millions of dollars to finance his book tours–you don’t spend that kind of money on cut-rate airlines and cheap motels).

    • Stu says:

      “His good works would certainly mitigate his transgressions, but they don’t excuse them.”
      - This is a very valid point since the author’s defense of GM is based purely on his impression of GM and not on rebuttal of specific allegations.

      I have just watched a CNN discussion with Alex Heard (Outside), Peter Bergen, and Nicholas Kristof and the more I believed that the book is full of lies — the two main dramatic stories (reaching Korphe after failed K2 attempt and the kidnapping issue). The intellectual accused of kidnapping (Mansour) is apparently suing GM of defamation.

      GM also refuses to be interviewed by CNN (although this does not mean guilt). He owed his readers some more explanation and should sue CBS and Krakauer if indeed he is innocent.

      Scapegoating and blaming his co-author is also a little way out of line.

  28. Kerrie says:

    People seem to think it’s unfair that Greg Mortenson is more than/less than his public persona. I find that rich considering that that public persona was a function of media, too. Switch his name out with Lindsay Lohan or Charlie Sheen. It’s all the same media machine. The initial story that 60 Minutes did on GM may have been altered to suit whatever editorial/business demands of the day, just like they alter stories to satisfy bullying special interests in other fields. Stands to reason that both sides could be slightly inaccurate. Perhaps the crux is that we need to stop expecting corporate media to broadcast stories that are both true and accurate.

    If you feel outraged, give your donations to someone else. You don’t think people disagree with the way the local United Way or other NGOs handle the money? Take your business elsewhere. Spend your anger working to increase fairness in your own community.

  29. Jen says:

    I read Krakauer’s article and watched the 60-Minute interview. There is no refuting the facts that were laid out in both stories: false financial documents created by CAI, the discovery of ghost-schools, Mortensen’s refusal to submit expense vouchers and receipts to account for where he spent CAI’s money.

    One does not need to do International Aid work in Afghanistan, Pakistan or anywhere else to recognize unethical behavior and call a spade a spade. Mortenson lied in his books, he lied to his CAI staff and he lied to the public. A lie by any other name (shitty businessman, difficult to work with) is still a lie. Whatever good intentions Mortenson had when he co-wrote Three Cups, were washed away by the fact that he knowingly committed financial fraud and needs to be held accountable for that. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that if you work for or run a company, and you spend that company’s money you have to account for what you spent! Mortenson committed financial fraud and needs to be held accountable for his actions regardless of work he’s done as a humanitarian. Just because you do good work doesn’t excuse you from bad behavior.

  30. Ed Fischer says:

    It seems that there are people commenting here who obviously haven’t actually read Jon Krakauers’s article at http://byliner.com/ and are missing the vital points entirely. Stretching the bounds of non-fiction is one thing, running a charity as your own private slush, as it seems Greg has done, is another.

    The people who are down on Jon for his expose should know that he himself donated $75,000.00 of his own money to CAI in the early days. That CAI has done some good work is undoubtable. Jon had to make a difficult decision whether to blow the whistle on Greg or not. A number of hard working directors who resigned from CAI over the years because of Greg’s refusal to allow financial transparency had to wrestle with this difficult decision too. It’s about time someone spoke up.

    • Tory Hunter says:

      Was it a difficult decision, or was Mortenson showing vulnerability that just made him the next obvious candidate to be exposed for “human frailty” a la Krakauer?

      My question is this: why not just go to the IRS and report CAI? Then the whole “thing” would come out, correct? Why string a financial story with allegations and comments from disgruntled former employees to orchestrate a COMPLETE character assassination? If you SAY the man’s cause is noble and good works have NO DOUBT been done in a difficult, neglected part of the world (that goes by different rules, btw), why do it in a way that will irreparably destroy the enterprise? Over the top…

      Unless self-promotion trumps all… THAT is sad. There were other ways this could have been done. It is much more messy and difficult to work with/help the living (GM) than write about/point out shortcomings of people who tried things and perhaps came up short (JK’s specialty?). I await more information.

  31. Rudy Green says:

    Mr. Glick – maybe you should read Krakauer’s piece first. I hardly think Greg was ambushed at the last minute on this one. The evidence of lies, wrongdoing and misuse of funds have been piling up for years. In fact, if you read through the first chapter of Jon’s piece of how Greg first solicited funds for his venture, you will see that Greg’s fabrications go back a long time (well before 3 cups). And while you have good connections with Greg and can vouch for his integrity as a person, many of the folks that Krakauer references in his article have similar experiences as you do. Your post here presents very little to help out your friend, but we appreciate the effort.

  32. Jennifer A;i says:

    “He is probably ill-suited to run a $20-million-dollar a year non-profit, and seems stubborn enough to ignore good advice from people who otherwise appreciate his work and message. ”

    This is the crux of the story. Mortensen is taking money from people who are willingly giving money to build schools. If he cannot and will not be financially responsible then he shouldn’t be doing it. Having a big heart is not enough to carry you through. If 1/10th of what Jon Krakauer wrote is true, then it is very very bad form. I cannot believe that people defend bad financial planning, lying, fraud and smoke and mirrors, Would you put up with it from anyone else? This is a double standard.

  33. Steve in W MA says:

    If the schools don’t exist, that’s serious. The accusation that CAI funds were used by Mortenson to promote his book, however, strikes me as unserious and curiously unaware of the overall context here; it is clear that CAI would be nowhere without Mortenson and the book, and that promoting the book is CAI’s best investment in terms of donations and connections made per dollar spent. Mortenson’s promotion of his book is the clearest path to more donations to CAI. If the bookkeeping didn’t keep it clear and separate, that’s something I don’t condone but it isn’t damning. And, seriously, CAI bought books from Amazon to increase its ranking? It’s a grey area, but I would call that smart dealing, not fraud.

  34. BMcall says:

    It’s interesting that nobody is drawing a correlation between the disgruntled former CAI board member who was fired for misuse of funds and the close relationship this board member has with Krakauer.

  35. bill says:

    Echo the last poster. Really, Mr. Glick. You blog post is the only unprofessional thing here. You say Krakauer’s piece is an assassination, yet you offer not one single example to back up your claim. The sad thing about the whole affair is that some of Mortenson’s lies could have been easily checked by a simple Google search yet he got away with it for so long. A visit to the body of Mother Teresa three years after she died? A kidnapping by the Taliban in Pakisatn in 1996? Come one, man. And worse yet is this report from a charity watchdog long before 60 Minutes got involved.

    http://www.charitywatch.org/articles/CentralAsiaInstitute.html

    And to think clowns like yourself and the State Department are still trying to prop the guy up. Is it so hard for people like you to just admit you were conned? Does it hurt your pride so much to admit you didn’t know you were being played? Unbelievable. No wonder our country always gets it wrong.

    • Renata says:

      Bill,

      The link you provide is interesting and relevant but you have the tone of a five year old. Your points will be much more well taken if you write respectfully.

      Renata

  36. Pingback: “60 Minutes” Quest for Sensationalism Rules over Probity « Horatio's Perspective

  37. free ipad 2 says:

    Nice review! This is truly the type of article that needs to be shared around the internet. Sad on the Bing for not ranking this blog post higher!

  38. Stu says:

    Time Magazine is now calling it Greg Mortenson Scandal.

    http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2066239,00.html

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  40. marc t says:

    mr. glick
    your defense of Greg M. seems to be based on the fact that he was a great guy 13 years ago.
    I( along with CBS and Jon K.) think Greg has done a lot of good things in the past. But he seems to have tipped to the dark side in the last few years.
    how can you explain the photo of Greg M. waving an AK 47 and smiling among his supposed kidnappers?
    don’t you think that fingering his guides as dangerous Taliban kidnappers in a book that is being given to all American military personnel being sent to the Afganistan has the possibility of collateral damage?

    You may not take Jon K. charges seriously but the Attorney General of Montana has taken them seriously enough to open an investigation of Greg M.’s misuse of CAI funds.

  41. chad says:

    I think the truth lies somewhere between the books and 60 Minutes/Krakauer. I have done solar lighting donation projects in Nepal and have seen how gracious people can be and how difficult seemingly simple things can be to achieve.

    Krakauer will always be suspect to me because of “Into Thin Air” and some of the untruths I believe he told in this book. That said, I think much of what he has researched is probably true.

    Greg tells an important and inspirational tale. One that, sadly is a bit too good to be true but that nonetheless is doing good work for people in need. perhaps not as much as they claim, and perhaps with more personal gain that should be but I hope that CAI continues in some form and that the people in these regions get more resources.

  42. Brijitte Sjöstrand says:

    C’mon Glick. You really can’t answer those questions?

    60 Minutes and Krakauer suspect that Mortenson is a charlatan because in the last couple years a slough of respectable staff and board members have quit CAI, accusing Mortenson of being as much.

    They worry about financial fraud because his own auditor warned that he could owe the IRS $7 to $23 million for excessive compensation.

    They worry about his accountability because so many of his schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan stand empty and unused that locals call them “ghost schools.”

    No doubt he’s done great good–fantastic good! The question is whether he has lied, squandered, and broken laws along the way. Kudos to 60 Minutes and Krakauer for raising the concerns. Please please please, Greg, prove that they’re baseless.

  43. Mike Miller says:

    Mortenson is a fraud, plain and simple. Your defense of him, boiled down to its essence, is that he seemed like a really nice guy when you met him 13 years ago. You recklessly accuse both Krakauer and 60 Minutes of hatchet journalism, but offer no specifics. Have you spoken to 60 Minutes or Krakauer about this? Have you actually read Krakauer’s online piece?

    Charlatans come in many disguises. It is one thing to admire the good work Mortenson appeared to stand for, but that does not excuse his self-serving deceit and dishonest behavior.

  44. Elizabeth B says:

    If Greg Mortenson had only built one school in the remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, it would be an accomplishment. However, it is fact that he has been responsible for building many schools and has done so at the request of real people in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was asked to build schools and health/community centers. He became a trusted partner to men and women who wanted progress for their children. He has demonstrated that listening to the people who need help is key. He has not imposed his will on the people he has served nor has he twisted any arms to get contributions. He has given all of us a priceless gift of HOPE in the face of an extremely sad world. Anyone who has read his books or the pamphlets put out by CAI as updates to his work will have to agree that he has an insight in to the process needed to make real change in the world.

    I hope that some experts come forth to donate their time to help CAI quickly make corrections to any management practices or any other deficiency there might be in the organization. I’m sure CAI would be pleased for the technical support. The goal should be to clear up any valid issues of management quickly and let CAI get on with its much needed mission.

    What will be a sad outcome is if the message is lost because some want to discredit the messenger. The message of THREE CUPS OF TEA is truly a gift to us all. Let’s talk about how to promote a shift in the way we think and do the business of “charity” and “aid.” While we are bombing and killing, GM/CAI has been empowering the people of these countries to take part in their own future. If the message of respect that allows for moving from strangers to family is ignored due to the passions of a witch hunt mentality, then we are is for a lot more savage behavior by those who would like to play the role of gods or masters in our world. We also prevent the spreading of education that is key in self-determination for these countries.

    If anyone wants to get upset about money mismanagement or betrayal of trust, I suggest we look at what has happened to put us in the position we are in with Wall Street making money hand over fist by speculation with the blessings of our representatives …. there’s a subject to explore. Where are the errors in that story?

    We need more people like Greg Mortenson — real heroes for our children — real HOPE and ACTION for the good.

  45. Meg says:

    There are a couple of issues here.

    1. I agree with the folks here who argue that Mortenson has neither really denied what he has been accused of nor offered a strong rebuttal of the accusations against him.

    2. The very story upon which Greg has based his humanitarian work is being called into question. I’ve heard him speak and it is a very, very powerful story, no doubt. If that in itself is not completely true, then donors and others have a right to question his credibility in other areas of his non-profit.

    3. If Mr. Mortenson is not good with organization, bookkeeping, etc. that’s fine. Lots of people with a vision as great as his aren’t. But the key is to hire people who are on top of these issues and to check back with them. Mismanagement is a big problem here.

    3. While Greg has built schools in a Muslim country, there are other organizations that have done the same quietly, with much less publicity. Perhaps because their story is not as sexy as that of a white man “saving” Muslim girls from ignorance. The organizations I’m talking about are staffed primarily of people from that part of the world. But what is so appealing about Greg’s story is the fact that a “typical American”(read: white man) is doing what Americans do best – save the world. He offers a sense of pride in the greatness of Americans, and what American doesn’t want that?

    4. 60 Minutes did not practice good journalism. They did not allow Mr. Mortenson to defend himself adequately, something any good report would have allowed him to do.

    While I do feel bad for Mr. Mortenson and his organization, they are no doubt facing a a crisis of confidence, I also understand why many are angry and upset. He is suffering from a heart ailment according a press release issued by his organization. I hope he gets better and 60 Minutes does its journalistic responsibility of allowing him to adequately address the allegations.

  46. Dear Daniel
    It takes a lot of courage, hard work and perseverence to build anything in Pakistan, especially schools for girls in the remotest parts of northern Pakistan, where Pakistanis themselves are reluctant to tread. It is easy to point fingers at someone who has at least achieved a mammoth task by his sheer love for humanity. I am a documentary filmmaker living in Islmabad and I am leaving tomorrow for Skardu to make a short documentary about this storm in a tea cup and help people realize what it means for a little girl to be in a school in the backward waters of Pakistan. And thank you for a well written article. cheers
    Wajahat
    Wajahat.

  47. Mary Ellen Cordes says:

    Thank you. There are very few who can do what he did or inspire as many others to think differently about how they are living their lives.

  48. Meliha says:

    Great article — well written! Really liked this part: “Mortenson has gone where few others have gone, and has put in incredible time and energy to raise awareness, seed schools, and give girls opportunities for education that would not be theirs otherwise. I have no doubt he has done orders of magnitude more good than harm.”

    I met Greg at one of his speaking engagements in the U.S. and have also travelled to Pakistan (multiple times). Thank you for standing up for Greg and the incredible work that he’s done.

    –Meliha

  49. @ Daniel, It is very inspiring piece for me to share with the world. Your article is very accurate and profound. I belong to the same valley where GM has built school. I second Wajhat, as what he explained here. People who blame GM needs to put an eye opener lenses for the sight. He is an inspiring persona not only to the Eastern world but to the Western world as well. We should not blame him by blindly believing on the controlled media by same creed of the west. Grow up, inject humanity and come up with solution to the problem of the world as GM has came up, to build one school at a time is the solution to the humanity.

  50. Jaqueline says:

    Bless you for making the effort to explain the terminlogy to the beginners!

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  52. Jim Robbins says:

    Respectfully disagree Dan. Details of this are pretty damning. One of Mortenson’s own former execs said he used CAI as his own personal cash machine, flew around in a private jet and only returned 41 percent of the funds to schools. A lot of people, not just 60 minutes and Krakauer, condemned it.

    • danielglick.net says:

      Jim,
      Thanks for the “respectfully” part. I agree that it’s a damning quote about the ATM machine, but I want to know if Greg used it to withdraw money to buy chappatis in Chapursan or Mazaratis in Montana. The obvious issues about separation of church and state are real, legal, accounting issues. My only point in “defense,” if you will, is that nobody seems to be accusing Greg of a profligate lifestyle at the expense of the mission. They’ve only spent 41 percent of the money on schools during the year that tax document was filed. But as I read it, CAI has amassed a huge war chest to do more work in the future. Again, I say that I do not know the details, but we have to leave the possibility that there’s more to this story than Krakauer and 60 Minutes dug up.

      • James says:

        If there are such straightforward and easy explanations for what’s been going on, then what hasn’t Mortenson simply provided them?

        Notwithstanding all the scorn that’s been heaped on Greg Mortenson, one thing that’s invariably true about Americans is that they are forgiving of people who admit they’ve screwed up and who ask forgiveness. In light of all the good work Mortenson has apparently done, I am quite sure that if he admitted some shortcomings and came clean, most of his alleged faults and omissions would be forgiven and fade from the headlines in short order. And yet he hasn’t. The question is, “Why?”

  53. paul says:

    I have no intention of condemning any one commenter here. And I don’t care to be emotional about this issue. But I must say I also am not persuaded by Mr. Glick’s essay. As a proud journalism school grad, former investigative reporter for a major newspaper and someone deeply interested in fairness and accuracy, I don’t see evidence of 60 Minutes or Krakauer having taken shortcuts on their reporting.

    Mr. Glick’s essay, well intentioned no doubt and well written indeed, did not address the central allegations: that Mr. Mortenson, his guilelessness and good words notwithstanding, lied blatantly to aggrandize his image and used that false image to promote himself (and his subsequent, indisputable good works). There is something really, really wrong with that. Don’t you agree?

    Moreover, Mr. Mortenson, through CAI, allegedly bought tens of thousands of his own books at retail prices, instead of at wholesale from the publisher, which gave him royalty fees and boosted the book’s Amazon rankings. Now, why in Buddha’s name would someone do that?

    I don’t claim to know. But I do know that lots of people have yaks in this fight even if they don’t realize it, by virtue of their affection and experience with the humble likes of Mr. Mortenson. That’s human nature. I don’t blame them.

    But we have to have specific answers to the most damning of these specific allegations. Don’t you agree?

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  55. Emily says:

    Thank you for the well written piece; like others, I especially resonated with this:

    “I know that Americans need a lot of bridge building in the Islamic world. Mortenson has gone where few others have gone, and has put in incredible time and energy to raise awareness, seed schools, and give girls opportunities for education that would not be theirs otherwise. I have no doubt he has done orders of magnitude more good than harm.”

    I am not sure what to believe about Mortenson; as someone who has been inspired by the books and given money to C.A.I. I will continue to follow this stories as it unfolds. I do wonder if our culture doesn’t have bigger fish to fry. While it isn’t journalistically sound, I find myself hoping that Mortenson is more disorganized than dishonest.

  56. James says:

    It amazes me to hear people say that 60 Minutes didn’t give Greg Mortenson an opportunity to defend himself. They reached out to him for over SIX MONTHS to get his response to what they were going to say, and he didn’t even bother to return their phone calls, much less arrange a time for an interview. When 60 Minutes went to Atlanta and asked to speak with him, he not only refused, but he diverted them and then ran in the other direction, abandoning the audience members who had filled a hotel ballroom hear him speak. Jon Krakauer similarly wanted Mr. Mortenson to have a conversation with him, but Mr. Mortenson backed out at the last minute.

    It also surprises me to hear people defending Greg Mortenson because they say, in so many words, “Greg cares so deeply about his work and those he’s helping.” Part of caring deeply about such things involves making doubly sure your financial and administrative house is in order and taking pains to be truthful in books that are presented as such, as doing so means that accusations can’t be leveled against you, the IRS stays out of your hair, and people like the Montana attorney general don’t start poking around, resulting in major distraction and loss of donor confidence. And if you can’t handle your finances, operations, or fact checking yourself, then you hire someone to do it for you.

  57. menomnon says:

    SIX MONTHS> Jennifer above said the CBS had been making the story for 6 months but only contacted GM in the last two weeks. So where does this claim, that CBS had been trying – for 6 months – to contact GM, come from?

    • James says:

      On the 60 Minutes video, they refer to their initial attempts to reach Mr. Mortenson “last fall.” They also show a copy of their original letter requesting an interview, and it’s dated September 14, 2010. Make that seven months.

  58. Mary Gunderson says:

    Thanks, Daniel. While the investigation of Greg Mortenson and CAI may indeed show mis-management issues. I am among those who refuse to buy the 60 Minutes-Jon K story. Jon K has made his living by writing about other people’s tragedies. Greg has accomplished a kind of bridge building that has even gotten the attn of the US military and has made a difference in how those in ‘boots on the ground’ engage the Afghanis. Uh, I don’t Krakauer’s books depicting human frailty and at times downright tragic personal choices have made life-changing impacts in anyone’s life, let alone one a national organization responsible for American lives, as well as a lasting legacy in Afghanistan.

    Thanks, Daniel, for using your forum to point out the complexities in this media storm.

  59. Kate O'Hehir says:

    Thank you! After reading through the comments, I feel the best thing we, as readers, can do is to boycott Krakauer’s books. This issue has so upset me, I may go home and develop a “BOYCOT KRAKAUER” Facebook page. I have been an educator for 25 years, I my heart goes out to the girls Mortenson has devoted his life to helping.

    Krakauer needs someone (and no doubt it is coming) to do fact checking on his own books; for example, he has upset the families of the people involved in most of his books. His latest book (before the assassination of Mortenson) “Under the Banner of Heaven” upset the Morman church so much, they said, “Mike Otterson, director of Media Relations for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), declared to the Associated Press that “This book is not history, and Krakauer is no historian. He is a storyteller who cuts corners to make the story sound good. His basic thesis appears to be that people who are religious are irrational, and that irrational people do strange things.”[2] Robert Millet, Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, an LDS institution, reviewed the book and described it as confusing, poorly organized, “misleading”, erroneous, prejudicial and insulting.[2]

    I don’t just read books, I teach them, and Krakauer needs a good lesson in compassion and I think it is not far off.

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  61. Laura Herzog says:

    60 minutes a “respectable” news program is laughable. 60 Minutes is not honest, balanced journalism, its sensationalism to sell commercials. GM’s biggest problem has been the wild success of his books and fund raising which, apparently, he was not temperamentally or educationally suited to handle. He and CAI need to get their financial house in order.

    That being said, I continue to donate to CAI because I am aware of no organization that has done as much to promote the need for female education throughout the third world, especially in tribal societies, and has taken the extraordinary risks associated with actually attempting to provide that education in remote regions. The fact that some of the schools have not been successful or money has ultimately been determined to not have been wisely spent is understandable in light of the region and the obstacles.

    Let the IRS and the MT AG’s office investigate and fine CAI and GM, if appropriate, but his good work should continue and given his success to date, there is no one better suited to do it. Those qualities which made GM achieve so much in the third world are those same qualities for which he is being demonized here for now; that is avoiding bureacracy, flying under the radar, skirting the rules, and doing what it takes to try to move forward. Yes, I believe in the case of the CAI and GM that the ends justify the means.

  62. Kate says:

    It’s becoming more clear that this is a publishing war over books, and our military’s use (or not) of non-violent (school building) strategies in dealing with the war.

    http://open.salon.com/blog/kjohehir/2011/05/29/krakauers_three_stooges_mcchrystal_petraeus_and_mortonson

    And, Steve Bullock, the Montana attorney general in charge of the investigation of CAI is mulling over whether or not to run for governor in 2012. When he makes his report public, that is a world wide audience for a man with political ambition. He can’t afford to be seen as too harsh nor too lienient on the finances of CAI.

  63. Sunny says:

    @Thomas:
    …Krakauer’s piece is “echoed and amplified by remarkable reporting by the foremost news program of our time”…(!?)
    Wow! Steve Kroft SKYPING a guy in a 3rd world country, where the CIA has ongoing covert ops – asking him if he’s a kidnapper – and he said “No” – (what a shock!). He denied it on NATIONAL TV (like anyone would admit that?)- 18 years later. This from the country where bin Laden was living (undetected!) a few miles away from the National Military School for 6 years…Right – crack reporting at it’s finest. Also – loved the “trenchcoat” Kroft wears for the cameras on a blazing hot day in Atlanta to “bust” Mortenson at his book signing… Pretty good show… Also – at the “bust”, Kroft says to Mortenson that it’s been “a week” that they’ve been waiting for him to respond – why didn’t Kroft say 7 months? Because sending one lame letter in the mail isn’t exactly “reaching out for over 7 months” – it’s a simple cya. Mortenson is very hard to contact – and often out of the country. And the whole point of this debacle is that CAI is understaffed… Must everything be taken out of context? Just sayin’…

  64. Sunny says:

    Final thought: I noticed that JK is on the Board of Directors of the American Himalayan Foundation… His “cause” – Stop Girl Trafficking – is their version of educating women and girls in the Nepal area… So – not only is Krakauer a “rival” climber/author – his organization has a direct interest in competing for donations with CAI. Could the ick factor be any higher here? I mean – where was the “remarkable reporting from the foremost news program of our time” when questioning JK as a source for this expose?
    Also – there is a huge footnote in the back of TCOD saying that one of the men who Mortenson dealt with in Pakistan WAS in fact a convicted kidnapper/liar/cheat who had escaped from jail. JK started out the footnote by mentioning “Mortenson’s lies” – then goes in to say that this guy did in fact turn out to be a criminal. Talk about :burying the lead”. People are running around saying that part of the book was “made up out of whole cloth”. Why is no one mentioning this? Or am I wrong? TCOD also states that Jean Hoerni could care less if the first school was built in Korphe or Khane… But 19 years later, this is breaking news!!! Wow, people…

  65. Sunny says:

    (Sorry – one more thing – Daniel Glick ROCKS:)

  66. Kate says:

    Sunny: Just so you know, I emailed the Himalya Foundation and asked how much they had received from TCD? I received an email right away. Byliner.com sent them a check for $10,000 (from Jon), after giving the book away for free for three days (which was copied and and saved thousands of times). Now he has published it via Random House. My question is are they still going to receive the proceeds?

    His publishing it in paperback now just proves our earlier point that it was a big publicity stunt to launch his friend’s Mark Bryant’s website Byliner. He’s done that, now somebody needs to see if Girl’s Stop Trafficking actually gets another dime.

  67. Sunny says:

    Kate:
    Since JK is on the Board of AHF (Stop Girl Trafficking), is it also in his interest that they receive funds (rather than CAI?). Yet ANOTHER conflict of interest as to his involvement in this story from the outset?! (“Here – don’t give to THIS charity – give to THIS ONE?”). Shouldn’t 60M have simply said – “Thanks for the info/tip, Jon – now WE will look into this and do a complete and thorough investigative story?” Why would they let themselves be used as an “infomercial” for “Three Cups of Deceit?” It was 60M’s involvement made JK’s case compelling. And as a bonus, they came in under budget that month and killed in the ratings… Worth it?

  68. Sunny says:

    (Laura Herzog also ROCKS)…

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