By now, everyone in the book business is buzzing about the affair of Greg Mortenson’s THREE CUPS OF TEA and whether large portions of the book were fabricated or distorted. It’s a sordid affair and not the first time these kinds of scandals surface in book publishing.
Here are the facts, or at least, the accusations. On Sunday, April 17 Sixty Minutes aired a program claiming that there were substantial inaccuracies and distortions in Greg Mortenson’s bestseller, THREE CUPS OF TEA, his story of how he came to his mission to help the poor in Afghanistan and Pakistan and how he founded The Central Asia Institute, the organization that implements this mission.
The centerpiece of the story is the accusation by author Jon Krakauer that the story is a “lie.” Krakauer disputes Mortenson’s story that he stumbled into the village of Korphe where he promised to build a school in return for the kindness the community showed him.
Additionally 60 Minutes contested a story by Mortenson that he was kidnapped and held hostage by the Taliban for 8 days. He even produces pictures of his captors in a subsequent book. Some of these alleged captors now deny the story. Interviewees on 60 Minutes claim that they were actually Mortenson’s protectors.
60 Minutes also examined the tax returns of The Central Asia Institute. They found that the Institute spent more money on promoting the book than supporting the 141 schools that they claimed they had financed. 60 Minutes asserted that some of these schools have never been built. Additionally there were accusations of expensive charter flights and the obligatory footage of Mortenson dodging the camera.
Mortenson , meanwhile, has been explaining all this away and avoiding hostile interviews. His spokesmen said that he had heart surgery last week and would not be available for interviews. But this did not stop him from doing a series of friendly interviews withOutside Magazine.
Today we find out that Krakauer, Mortenson’s chief accuser, has written a 75 page book on the same subject, THREE CUPS OF DECEIT, just released by ebook publisher Byliner.com. This was not disclosed by 60 Minutes and raises the question of whether Krakauer (or 60 Minutes) rushed the story out to make some money on the scandal. The text in Krakauer’s book substantially tracks the 60 Minute story.
Viking, the publisher of THREE CUPS OF TEA, meanwhile has been making noises about launching an investigation into the veracity of the book.
THREE CUPS OF TEA has sold almost 4,000,000 copies. It is unlikely that they could all be returned with a refund.