Greg Mortenson has raised millions of dollars for schools in northern Pakistan through his charity, the Central Asia Institute. But a 60 Minutes report last night called into question the ethics of the Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools author, claiming that he fabricated or exaggerated much of his nonfiction memoirs, and that his charity work is on a much smaller scale than he claims. To begin with, in Tea, Mortenson claims that he became lost on the Himalayan peak K2 and stumbled into the small village of Korphe, alone and dehydrated. There, he said, townspeople nursed him back to health, and in return he promised to build them a school. 60 Minutes tracked down the sherpas who accompanied Mortenson on the trip, who denied the anecdote. (Witnesses say Mortenson only visited the town an entire year later).
Additionally, in his follow-up best-seller, Mortenson claimed to have been kidnapped by the Taliban for over a week. As evidence in the book, he included a picture of him with men who he claimed were his captors. 60 Minutes tracked down the men, who said that they were, in fact, not Taliban (one is a prominent scholar and others are businessmen) and were actually part of Mortenson’s protective detail. They even produced a photo of Mortenson posing gleefully with a machine gun from the same series of images.
Beyond the alleged exaggerations in the text, 60 Minutes found irregularities in his charity claims. According to the Central Asia Institute, they’ve built 54 schools serving some 28,000 students. But reporters visited nearly 30 of those schools and found nearly half to be empty. Likewise, 60 Minutes reporter Steve Kroft revealed that millions of dollars in funds from the charity were spent on book-tour expenses for Mortenson, like advertising, and travel on private jets.
Below, watch as Kroft tries to nail down Mortenson at a book signing. The author and his publicists avoided contact with the 60 Minutes team as long as possible, sending a statement denying some of Kroft’s claims and defending Mortenson only a day before the segment aired. As fellow author Jon Krakauer notes, no matter what the facts are, Mortenson has inarguably done great good on behalf of children — especially girls — in Pakistan. But watching the clip below, you’ll see the face of a guy who knows he’s been busted at something.
60 Minutes on Greg Mortenson [CBS News]