The Greg Mortenson Scandal: One University's Bitter Cup of Tea
Every year, the University of Louisville gives out five $100,000 Grawemeyer Awards. Most of the recipients aren't celebrities — mainly academics outstanding in their fields of expertise. Mikhail Gorbachev, who won one in 1994, was a rare awardee who was also a global star. This time around, however, a faculty member nominated a famous name and, after the candidacy was very well received in the selection process, the university announced on April 14 that Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, was a winner of the 2011 Grawemeyer education prize.
Two days later, however, the school, like the rest of the country, learned of an exposé by CBS's 60 Minutes that alleged that some of the most dramatic episodes in the best-selling book and its popular sequel were inaccurate, if not largely fabricated. Moreover, serious questions have been raised over the way Mortenson has run his nonprofit Central Asian Institute (CAI) and the way it pursues its objective of building schools and educating girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan. (See "Why Three Cups of Tea Are Not Enough.")
The university has not yet decided whether to rescind the award, says Allan Dittmer, executive director of the awards, which are named for an alumnus, H. Charles Grawemeyer, who endowed the honors. Mortenson, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee for the past couple of years, remains a very popular figure among the thousands who have contributed to the CAI and to his Pennies for Peace campaign, which encouraged American schoolchildren to contribute loose change toward the author's Afghan and Pakistani goals. President Obama gave $100,000 from his own 2008 Nobel Peace Prize award to the CAI. "A bazillion questions are surfacing, and I'm guessing those will be looked into very carefully," Dittmer told TIME. "We'll wait to see if he's vindicated, and if not we may have to make a tough decision."
There are numerous allegations against Mortenson. Beyond the 60 Minutes investigation that aired on April 17, they are detailed and documented by another best-selling author, Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air), in an e-book published on April 18 by Byliner Originals (a company owned by John Tayman, the editor of TIME.com's Techland). Among several claims: that Mortenson conflated two towns in the Pakistani-ruled sector of Kashmir and reneged on a promise to the initial town he visited to confer on it the first school he built; that Mortenson transformed what was a warm, leisurely visit with frontier tribesmen in Pakistan into his kidnapping by Taliban, even though there were no Taliban in the area at the time; and being such an accountant's nightmare that internal auditors were afraid he would be liable for up to $23 million in back taxes for "excessive benefits" taken out of CAI funds. (See Afghanistan's graffiti wars.)
On April 18, Mortenson responded to most of the charges in an interview that ran on the website of Outside magazine. He admitted to "omissions and compressions" in his first book but denied Krakauer and CBS's claim that he did not get to the town at the center of the narrative until a year after the events he described. He said there were villagers who could corroborate his account but argued that the residents of the region find "Westerners' emphasis on time confusing." Mortenson also insisted that he was kidnapped, though he allowed that his abductors did not call themselves Taliban. As for the allegations of using the CAI as a virtual ATM, he 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."
(Additional points of contention: one of Krakauer's sources is a self-confessed [though penitent] embezzler who ran Mortenson's operations in Pakistan; a minor source, as Krakauer makes clear in a note, is a con man and fugitive from the law who passed a false rumor that he had kidnapped Mortenson in order to extort money from his tribal kin who were the American's hosts.)
As it was, the CBS and Krakauer investigations were reaching a crux just as the University of Louisville was about to announce that Mortenson had won the $100,000 prize. 60 Minutes first reached Mortenson's wife on March 30 and the next day got in touch with his staff. But Mortenson claims he never directly received the e-mail queries the show's Steve Kroft told him he had sent. (Kroft would also attempt to ambush interview Mortenson on April 14 at an Atlanta event, to no avail.) As for Krakauer, he first requested an interview with Mortenson on April 13 and both sides agreed to an April 16 meeting. But Mortenson begged off for health reasons and also refused to be audiotaped. He told Outside, "Once I realized how deep and dirty this whole thing was, I realized I couldn't trust him enough to meet him in the middle of a field without any clothes on." (See the 100 best TV shows.)
Louisville knew early on that Mortenson could not make the official April 13 awards dinner but had a terrible time trying to get him to commit to an alternate date. "It was like trying to get in touch with a CEO," Bill Bush, who oversees the Grawemeyer Award in Education, told TIME. "He has layers of people. I never had the opportunity to talk to him — I was only talking to his staff." Only about a week before the dinner did Mortenson's office return a signed agreement that committed him to a requisite appearance in Louisville to accept the award — in September. (The school could only announce the award on the 14th after the university trustees signed off on the deal.) Dittmer told TIME that Mortenson's staff "gave no indication at all of any problems" when they returned the contract. "The first anyone here was aware of an issue was on Saturday when they ran a 60 Minutes preview. It's alarming to those of us who have worked on this for years." The Grawemeyer staff has tried to contact Mortenson since the story broke. "When you do, you don't get very far," Bush says.
John Ferré, a Louisville professor of communications who has helped judge previous Grawemeyer Awards, says the university is a victim of unfortunate timing. "You do everything you can to ensure you have a powerful idea that we want to champion, which is what the awards are for," he says. "By the time it gets to the award, you assume the facts have been checked. The university, in my mind, is behaving honorably. We give a tremendous series of prizes, and it's possible this one was mistaken. It's also possible this one is not mistaken. I don't think the jury is in yet."
But one person can claim that she spoke forcefully against Mortenson's selection as the winner. "Greg's story took the vast majority of favorable opinions," Tori Murden McClure, a member of the Grawemeyer education committee, told TIME. "I spoke in favor of Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford, whose research I found to be far more extensive and compelling. A faculty member swung a little in my direction, but both of us conceded to a clear majority." The current president of Spalding University in downtown Louisville, McClure says, "I had no basis in fact for having the heebie-jeebies about him. Greg's done lot of good. He doesn't have to embellish with stories of derring-do that didn't happen. Meanwhile, there was a fabulous book about education in America, and the committee wouldn't look at it because you have this alleged superhero."
— With reporting by Howard Chua-Eoan / New York City
此書描寫一位落難登山客，在巴基斯坦山區的一個偏僻小村、被善良的村民照顧與感動的故事；但故事的高潮在於主角給這小村的承諾：一定會回來為他們的 孩子辦學校。其實這是作者之一、美國中亞協會會長摩頓森的真實體驗，在書中也呈現了他實現承諾的過程；包含他如何在打字機上一字一句的築起這件美事，又如 何在回到巴基斯坦時因帶入的物資而受到覬覦及阻礙。
Central Asia Institute » Book Review: ‘Three Cups of Tea’ will ...
(Just the aroma of Paiyu cha tea “is stinkier than the most frightening cheese
the French ever invented.”)
In the introduction to the book, Relin says, “The accounts I’d heard about Mortenson’s adventures building schools for girls in the remote mountain regions of Pakistan sounded too dramatic to believe before I left home.
The story I found, with ibex hunters in the high valleys of the Karakoram, in nomad settlements at the wild edge of Afghanistan, around conference tables with Pakistan’s military elite, and over endless cups of paiyu cha in tea-rooms so smoky I had to squint to see my notebook, was even more remarkable than I’d imagined.”
Do you know anyone who would be willing to sell everything they own and live in their car just so they could save every dollar for someone else? Greg Mortenson, a great American hero, did just that when he followed through on his promise to an impoverished Pakistani village to build a school for its children, and in the process has found himself playing a major role in one of the most historically and culturally pivotal areas in the world today.
In THREE CUPS OF TEA: One Man’s Mission to Promote . . . One School at a Time (Viking/On-sale date: March 6, 2006) Greg Mortenson, and acclaimed journalist David Oliver Relin, recount the unlikely journey that led Mortenson from a failed attempt to climb Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain, to successfully building schools in some of the most remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. By replacing guns with pencils, rhetoric with reading, Mortenson combines his unique background with his intimate knowledge of the third-world to fight terrorism with books, not bombs, and successfully bring education and hope to remote villages in central
In 1993 Mortenson was descending from his failed attempt to reach the
While recovering he observed the village’s 84 children sitting outdoors, scratching their lessons in the dirt with sticks. The village was so poor that it could not afford the $1-a-day salary to hire a teacher. When he left the village, he promised that he would return to build them a school.
From that rash, heartfelt promise grew one of the most incredible humanitarian campaigns of our time: Greg Mortenson’s one-man mission to counteract extremism and terrorism by building schools—especially for girls—throughout the breeding ground of the Taliban.
Mortenson had no reason to believe he could fulfill his promise. In an early effort to raise money he wrote letters to 580 celebrities, businessmen, and other prominent Americans. His only reply was a $100 check from NBC’s Tom Brokaw. Selling everything he owned, he still only raised $2,000. But his luck began to change when a group of elementary school children in
Mortenson and award-winning journalist David Oliver Relin have written a spellbinding account of his incredible accomplishments in a region where Americans are feared and hated. In pursuit of his goal, Mortenson has survived an armed kidnapping, fatwas issued by enraged mullahs, repeated death threats, and wrenching separations from his wife and children. Yet his success speaks for itself. This year the schools will educate 24,000 children.
About the Author:
Greg Mortenson, is the director of the Central Asia Institute. A resident of
David Oliver Relin is a contributing editor for Parade Magazine and Skiing Magazine. He has won more than forty national awards for his work as a writer and editor.
Purchases of the Three Cups of Tea paperback book, audio CD set, and single track music CD, made on Amazon.com through this link will generate up to 7% of proceeds to benefit Central Asia Institute, please Click Here.