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Greg Mortenson's "Three Cups of Tea" story fictionalized?

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KenH

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Thought I'd step away from the brouhaha regarding ebooks and self-pubbing to mention this. By now, many of you will have heard about the controversy coming out regarding Greg Mortenson's book and how he fabricated some of the details for his best-selling book. Of course, it immediately brings to mind James Frey and Herman Rosenblat and the question of how far a writer is willing to go to make an true story salable. But there are other considerations. My 9-y/o son read "Three Cups" and got a lot out of the book; we've had some wonderful discussions about the author's experience and the greater social implications raised by the story. Now I wonder how I might explain this newest revelation to him.

What are your thoughts?

For anyone needing to get up to speed on this, here's a link.
#1 - April 18, 2011, 01:12 PM

MaryWitzl

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I've read 'Three Cups of Tea', the accusations, and Mortenson's initial response. He claims that he condensed some of the events that led him to make his initial offer to build a school. I don't mind that at all; a lot of creative non-fiction writers condense events or deal with time/places 'creatively' -- James Herriot did this when in his veterinarian memoirs. What worries me more is the allegation that Mortenson fabricated accounts of the Taliban kidnapping.

Mortenson's foundation has done a lot of good. I believe that he genuinely wants to help girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and I'd like to believe that if he did fabricate anything, he did it with good intentions, however misguided that was.
#2 - April 18, 2011, 02:34 PM

"Three Cups of Tea" was required reading for my son's eight grade class this year. They used the book as an example of a positive acts of humanity. They were challenged to do research and find other examples of people who made a different but with little recognition. It's sad to think the author may have embellished parts of the books to make it more commercial. The book was held as an example of what was right with the world. I would hate for the kids to be disillusioned. :groan
#3 - April 18, 2011, 02:53 PM
http://www.samposey.com/
The Last Station Master, Feb. 2013

I saw it on 60 Minutes. I think saying you were captured by the Taliban when you weren't is outright lying.

Also, the independent charity guy  (that rates charities) called into question how Mortensen's charity spends its money -- most of which involved financing his multiple book tours, which include private jets and luxury hotels. His books' proceeds go to his pocket, yet the charity donations pay for his book tours. What the....

This is fraud, plain and simple. You cannot be a charity if the charity's main cause is lining your pockets.
#4 - April 18, 2011, 03:19 PM
« Last Edit: April 18, 2011, 03:24 PM by CC »
OPEN COURT, Knopf

MaryWitzl

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I think saying you were captured by the Taliban when you weren't is outright lying.
  I agree.  But 60 Minutes have been guilty of uncorroborated stories and superficial reporting in the past. I'm going to wait a little while longer to see what else comes out.
#5 - April 18, 2011, 03:35 PM

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60 Minutes notwithstanding, the IRS information doesn't look good.  Sad.
#6 - April 18, 2011, 03:58 PM
The Leland Sisters series: Courtship and Curses, Bewitching Season, Betraying Season (Holt BYR/Macmillan)
www.marissadoyle.com
www.nineteenteen.com

I agree that you have to wait until this whole thing blows over.  I feel bad for the guy, but let that be a lesson to authors everywhere.  The world is not going to look at your story for the good it brings if it is based on lies.  Everything that this guy has ever done is now going to be tainted.  I think that he meant well, but those lies, no matter how little, are going to ruin him for good.  It's a shame. 
#7 - April 18, 2011, 04:08 PM
A neurtron walks into a bar and asks, "how much for a drink?" The bartender says, "no charge."
-Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory)

  I'm going to wait a little while longer to see what else comes out.

My post sounded like I already pronounced him guilty and I don't know that he is, just what 60 Minutes reported. I think that the lying -- if he did -- is the lesser offense. The money is far more damaging. If people are giving 60 million in donations thinking it's going to girls schools but in actuality it's financing his book tours (his book royalties are his alone, and don't belong to the charity) then that is a huge stain and one that may not be able to be overcome with an apology.

On the other hand, James Frey got a million dollar book advance for the book he wrote after his debacle, so maybe no one will care in the end. (?)
#8 - April 18, 2011, 04:47 PM
OPEN COURT, Knopf

Jenn Bertman
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Jon Krakauer has written an expose about this. You can download it here: http://byliner.com/ (Free download for a limited time.)

#9 - April 18, 2011, 06:30 PM
BOOK SCAVENGER, Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt 
THE UNBREAKABLE CODE, April 2017
UNLOCK THE ROCK, 2018
jenniferchamblissbertman.com

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NO! Say it isn't true?! I can't believe it. Ugh. I LOVED that book with all my heart. Loved it. I hope it's not true, I really do. It feels like almost every time I find someone who seems to be really really good, they turn out not to be. Ugh ugh ugh.
#10 - April 18, 2011, 07:21 PM

Oy.  read Krakauer's expose -- the allegations are easily verifiable, especially the financial misdeeds. They still need to be verified, however.

Unfortunately, though I hope I am wrong, I believe the allegations are true. I knew someone *exactly* like Mortenson is portrayed by Krakauer.  He was brilliant at telling a story (which sometimes even had a grain of truth in them), raising money (from people who believed his stories), and using the church finances as his own personal ATM. Manipulated his board. Hid information. Fit the profile to a capital T.

I think people like the one I knew believe their own stories. That's what makes their lies so difficult to detect -- the don't think they are lying. They are convinced that they are savior types, doing good.

When I worked as an editor for an international missions newsletter, I learned very quickly to sort people by asking one question: Who originated the story of their daring or delightful deeds? If I heard about a person or ministry from others, then I would pursue it.

 If, on the other hand, a missionary was busy telling the story themselves, or if I heard it from people who had heard it from said missionary, alarm bells went off. And the alarm was always right. I can't think of one instance in which a truly good person spent lots of time talking about how good they were. Not in any context.

So, who told Mortenson's stories? Who verified them?

P.S: Franzilla. I'm so sorry if it turns out to be as bad as I think it may be.  BUT.... I know how you can find someone who is really really good. Just wake up every morning and be that person. :) And if you fall down and are not  really good one day, just be honest about it, then get up and try again.

Everyone has warts -- my role models, people like George MacDonald, Gandhi,  Bonhoeffer, Corrie Ten Boom, Dr. Martin Luther King, Flannery O'Connor or Anet J.  (to name a very few) all moved the world to be better. And they were all just human.
#11 - April 19, 2011, 10:59 AM

MaryWitzl

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I think people like the one I knew believe their own stories. That's what makes their lies so difficult to detect -- they don't think they are lying. They are convinced that they are savior types, doing good.
   Yes. The most dangerous liars in the world are the ones who have convinced themselves they are telling the truth. But Mortenson convinced people like Sir Edmund Hillary too. Maybe he started out with a pure heart, then changed? 

I couldn't agree more with you about people who trumpet their own virtues. It's so much better to do good and let other people spread the word.

On the other hand, James Frey got a million dollar book advance for the book he wrote after his debacle, so maybe no one will care in the end. (?)

When James Frey lied, it wasn't about funds that were supposed to go to a charitable institution. Also, initially he wanted to sell his 'memoir' as fiction, but was persuaded that it would be more popular if it were billed as non-fiction. If it turns out Mortenson lied for personal gain, he's not going to get off that easily.   :cry2
#12 - April 19, 2011, 11:19 AM

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Ugh. This is so depressing. I have talked up Three Cups of Tea to everyone I know. The idea of using education to root out extremism is so powerful. I hope the throngs of people who have rallied behind Mortenson won't desert the cause along with the leader.
#13 - April 19, 2011, 11:25 AM

KathrynJ

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I think it's abysmal for anyone to accept charitable donations and then use the proceeds for personal gain, though Mortenson is hardly the first to do so.

Go ahead and let kids read the book and then mention the newest revelations. IMO, it's a great opportunity to discuss personal and professional ethics.

#14 - April 19, 2011, 12:03 PM

KenH

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Yeah, it's looking worse and worse.

On the other hand, I doubt the kids who benefitted from the school (schools?) that were built because of him really care. It's the people he suckered that he needs to answer to.
#15 - April 19, 2011, 12:08 PM

Yeah, it's looking worse and worse.

On the other hand, I doubt the kids who benefitted from the school (schools?) that were built because of him really care. It's the people he suckered that he needs to answer to.

Problem is, lots of the schools he claims to have built don't exist. Others are being used for hay storage because they never had a teacher. I'm pretty sure the kids do care. :(

eab
#16 - April 19, 2011, 12:11 PM

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"BUT.... I know how you can find someone who is really really good. Just wake up every morning and be that person."

Yes! You're right. This is definitely the key. I think I just feel like a sucker. Although there's no way I could have known, I hate that I loved that book so much. I've been cheated - not out of money, but out of warm fuzzies. Grrr.
#17 - April 19, 2011, 12:31 PM

KenH

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Problem is, lots of the schools he claims to have built don't exist. Others are being used for hay storage because they never had a teacher. I'm pretty sure the kids do care. :(

eab

Oh, criminy!
#18 - April 19, 2011, 12:44 PM

MaryWitzl

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I hate that I loved that book so much. I've been cheated - not out of money, but out of warm fuzzies. Grrr.
  This is exactly how I feel. I want so much to believe in this kind of unselfish goodness.

Anybody want to go build a school in Afghanistan? :tea :tea :tea
#19 - April 19, 2011, 12:58 PM

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Mary, I'm not much of a builder (I have trouble with my daughter's building blocks). But I did find this:

http://www.hoopoekids.com/afghanistan.htm

I love the idea that they get picture books telling stories of their own culture.

Looking at that website and thinking about this issue made me wonder: is there such a thing as a charity ombudsman? Or a charity check-up organisation? There are so many these days it's impossible to know if one is good or bad or somewhere in between.
#20 - April 19, 2011, 02:46 PM

Mary, I'm not much of a builder (I have trouble with my daughter's building blocks). But I did find this:

http://www.hoopoekids.com/afghanistan.htm

I love the idea that they get picture books telling stories of their own culture.

Looking at that website and thinking about this issue made me wonder: is there such a thing as a charity ombudsman? Or a charity check-up organisation? There are so many these days it's impossible to know if one is good or bad or somewhere in between.

There are lots of 'charity checkers' as it were. I use several. Try this one:  http://www.charitywatch.org/
#21 - April 19, 2011, 02:56 PM

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Ooh that's good. I just put in 'Afghanistan' and it came up with a list. Love it. Thanks!
#22 - April 19, 2011, 06:26 PM

This is really disheartening, but there are still good people. I know of a girl who moved to Uganda at 18 years old, adopted 14 orphans (some are still in the process of becoming official) and started an organization to feed and provide medical care to the homeless. And my sister is on the board of a great organization that partners with women in Rwanda to sell baskets and jewelry and bring money into the country for schools and things.

I like Mary's rule of thumb, that those people are usually busy helping and not talking about it.

The saddest part of this I think is the comment about those schools not having teachers. Very sad.
#23 - April 19, 2011, 09:24 PM
Robin

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I've been following this news with interest because it just so happens that our book club picked Three Cups of Tea this month to read.  Instead of continuing to read it though, I decided to put it down and read Jon Krakauer's expose at byliner.  Krakauer was a huge supporter of Mortenson - even donating money to the cause.  But when he started to check things out, he was very disturbed by what he found.  It sounds like Mortenson got caught up in his own myth and started to think he could do anything he wanted to and didn't need to answer to anyone - the end justifies the means if you will.
#24 - April 20, 2011, 12:23 AM

I've been following this news with interest because it just so happens that our book club picked Three Cups of Tea this month to read.  Instead of continuing to read it though, I decided to put it down and read Jon Krakauer's expose at byliner.  Krakauer was a huge supporter of Mortenson - even donating money to the cause.  But when he started to check things out, he was very disturbed by what he found.  It sounds like Mortenson got caught up in his own myth and started to think he could do anything he wanted to and didn't need to answer to anyone - the end justifies the means if you will.

I'm afraid he was *always* caught up in his own myth. It seems the deception was seeded in right from the beginning--for instance, when he first started fundraising (before he was given a million dollars) he wrote an article about promising to build a school in a completely different village from the one actually built the first school in...apparently, he promised it to one group in one village, then built if for another and conveniently changed the story to make it appear that he had kept his promise. Sigh.

However, I don't think embellishing the book is half as bad as using money people donated to his charity to promote his books sales...especially since none of the royalty money goes to the charity. Some people are reporting that money donated in 2009 was more likely to be spent on book advertising and flying him (by charter jet) to speeches (30,000+ a pop, none of which went to the charity) than it was to be spent on schools. Yep. Over four million dollars spent on his events in the states, from which the charity got nothing.  All those Pennies for Peace collected by kids....

I have a feeling this will end in jail time.

eab
#25 - April 20, 2011, 02:29 PM

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What I can't understand is how anyone in this day and age imagines they can get away with that kind of fraud. With digital information, everything is so easily traceable. If you say you are going to spend money on one thing and then you don't, it *will* come out in the wash. It's not like you can just shred the only copy of a handwritten document or charter a private jet with a handshake and a wad of cash. Is it just ego that makes people think they're infallible?
#26 - April 20, 2011, 02:42 PM

What I can't understand is how anyone in this day and age imagines they can get away with that kind of fraud. With digital information, everything is so easily traceable. If you say you are going to spend money on one thing and then you don't, it *will* come out in the wash. It's not like you can just shred the only copy of a handwritten document or charter a private jet with a handshake and a wad of cash. Is it just ego that makes people think they're infallible?

I wonder the same thing. Do they just believe their own lie and tell themselves there's a 'greater good'? That *eventually* all the money will get where it's supposed to go? It makes it harder for the people raising money for real charities, too. Because there are plenty of people that need help and this kind of thing makes people wary. I *hope* it ends in jail time.
#27 - April 20, 2011, 04:45 PM
Robin

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I keep thinking -- my kids have for the past 2 years at their elementary school collected "pennies for..." something.  Peace?  Maybe.  Sounds right.  Was it this organization?  Grrr.  I surely hope not, but my heart is sinking.  So sad for the people who needed the funds, and for those who so generously gave/raised the funds to end up in this guy's pocket.
#28 - April 20, 2011, 05:15 PM

I wonder the same thing. Do they just believe their own lie and tell themselves there's a 'greater good'? That *eventually* all the money will get where it's supposed to go?

Apparently, yeah... This is Mortensen's quote from Time magazine.

As for the allegations of using the CAI as a virtual ATM, Mortensen says that consultants have told him "basically we've done nothing wrong" and that "as much as it would be great to separate everything, we're all intricately woven ... I'm really the only reason CAI can exist right now."

#29 - April 20, 2011, 05:58 PM

MaryWitzl

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I wonder the same thing. Do they just believe their own lie and tell themselves there's a 'greater good'? That *eventually* all the money will get where it's supposed to go? It makes it harder for the people raising money for real charities, too. Because there are plenty of people that need help and this kind of thing makes people wary. I *hope* it ends in jail time.

The mountain communities where these schools were built (or not, as the case may be) are so remote and difficult to reach, he probably thought he could get away with this. But as more and more climbers visit these remote hamlets, you'd think he might have realized the risks. I think he must have started out with good intentions, which he fulfilled, for the most part. I refuse to believe that he set out to swindle.

The sad thing is, it was our elderly Pakistani/British neighbors in Cyprus who first loaned me this book last year. When I returned it, I sang the book's praises and the wife shook her head and said, "Do you think he's really built all those schools?"  I thought she was just being cynical, but now I wonder if she'd already heard something negative about CAI.
#30 - April 21, 2011, 05:59 AM

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