James Frey infamously did it with “A Million Little Pieces,” and now bestselling “Three Cups of Tea” author Greg Mortenson is being accused of it too: memoir fraud.
The New York Times-bestselling novel, which earned millions, is coming under fire for multiple alleged inaccuracies and discrepancies concerning timelines and events.
It is bad enough that Mortenson could have potentially exaggerated about events and then published them as reality — that is an act definitely offensive to many. As a consumer of media, I’m offended; as a reader, I’m offended; as a writer, I’m offended; as the journalist who interviewed Mortenson for his event on TCU’s campus three months ago — I’m aggressively pissed off.
The seemingly gentle man smiled, shook my hand, spoke to me with respect and with passion for his cause. He gave a few canned, corny, Gandhi-esque quotes concerning humanity and education, but he also spoke with what sounded like genuine care and concern for the people he encountered, the children he helped, and the boy who was tragically killed by a landmine.
This same man claims that after famously failing to reach the summit of K2, he staggered into a village, delirious and dehydrated, was nursed back to good condition and then vowed to return one day and build a school. Mortenson now says this happening was a “compressed version of events that took place in the fall of 1993,” according to a Yahoo! News article published Monday. And the suspenseful, uber-dangerous part where Mortenson was kidnapped and held hostage by the Taliban for eight days? False, according to “60 Minutes” correspondent Steve Kroft, who put Mortenson’s tale through the wringer and spurred the now-nationwide skepticism surrounding the memoir.
“It’s a beautiful story, and it’s a lie,” author Jon Krakauer, former financial supporter and friend of Mortenson’s, said in the same Yahoo! News story and to “60 Minutes.” Krakauer offered compelling evidence that Mortenson was never separated from his other mountain climbers or lost during his descent. He goes on to claim the village of Korphe, where Mortenson has supposedly spent so much time, money and has expressed great gratitude for, was not even known to him until a year afterward. The men he identified as his Taliban kidnappers? His tour guides, Krakauer said.
Kroft went to report that half a dozen board and staff members have left Mortenson’s nonprofit in recent years due to disagreements with how the money was being budgeted. The same Yahoo! News story claims the charity has only filed one public IRS return in its 14-year existence and reported spending $1.7 million on Mortenson’s book tour and promotion travels on items including private jets. Krakauer said he was told by a staffer that “Greg uses Central Asia Institute as his private ATM machine — that there’s no accounting. He has no receipts.”
The rabbit hole goes deeper and deeper concerning Mortenson’s schools, specifically how many of them are actually occupied and used as places of education and how many are actually even in existence. Yes, Mortenson has brought awareness to a worthy cause and built schools in remote villages for needy children, but if half of that funding is going into his pocket and half of those schools are not even occupied, how much good is he doing? Did he even actually drink any tea, or were those cups filled with crap, too?
Andrea Bolt is a senior news-editorial journalism major from The Woodlands.