Tempest in a Tea Pot

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.

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7 Responses to “Tempest in a Tea Pot”

  1. Tanya Egan Gibson Says:

    I just finished reading the Krakauer piece, Andy. Definitely worth reading in its entirety. I kept thinking about how “real life” is very untidy, and how the public’s appetite for neat packages (and publishers’ willingness to deliver it) seemed to enable the compounding lies.

    If you label a guy a saint (and let him rewrite the history of what happened into what Krakauer calls a “creation myth), it shouldn’t be that surprising when he starts to believe that he doesn’t need to be held accountable for what he does/says/spends the way other mere mortals are. (I’m not implying Mortenson isn’t responsible for his own actions–just saying that complicity bears responsibility, too.)

  2. andyrossagency Says:

    Thanks, Tanya. It is always interesting to see the mighty brought down to size. But, actually, I am more intrigued about the timing of Krakauer’s accusations and the publication of his book. God knows I have tried to time publicity over the years and with a considerable amount of success. But…as Tennessee Williams said: “I smell the smell of mendacity in this room.”

  3. Tanya Egan Gibson Says:

    Hi Andy,

    I’m not into schadenfreude–I have no interest in watching anyone be brought down. I’m confused about what you’re saying about the timing. It seemed like the Krakauer piece (the short e-book-type-article from Byliner) was some time in the making. And I didn’t think Krakauer has a book of his own (aside from the e-book article) being published right now that this will help publicity-wise. (If I’ve missed a key piece here, let me know?)

  4. andyrossagency Says:

    Tanya, I’m not sure, but the timing on all these things is hardly coincidental. Krakauer’s is the first book by the ebook publisher and they always want to have a splash to put their name on the map. It’s a complicated thing but I suspect no one’s hands are entirely clean in this matter and money always has a lot to do with it. I guess all I’m saying is that Krakauer may have his own agenda here.

  5. Rayme Says:

    Oh I hate stories like Mortensens! I get so disappointed. I guess this is why I deal only in fiction. Tells the truth better, anyhow!

  6. andyrossagency Says:

    Oh, Rayme. That is wise. This kind of scandal seems to happen every few years in publishing.

  7. Nicole R. Zimmerman Says:

    Proceeds for Krakauer’s 75-page article benefit America Himalaya Foundation’s Stop Girl Trafficking Project. According to the Montreal Gazette, Krakauer’s editor, Mark Bryant, explained:
    “why Krakauer appeared on ’60 Minutes’ on Sunday, then a day later, and with no advance word, released his own expose. Bryant says Krakauer tipped off ’60 Minutes’ about his concerns about Mortenson last year and later decided:
    ‘There was more to the story than could be told in 12 to 14 minutes on TV. But he promised ‘60 Minutes’ they could go first.’ ”

    Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Probe+launched+after+Minutes+Krakauer+target+veracity+memoir+Three+Cups+author+Greg+Mortenson/4655398/story.html#ixzz1LcMVk9D3
    or:
    http://paper-pencil-pen.blogspot.com/2011/04/greg-mortenson-fact-vs-fiction-fiasco.html

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