Sunday, April 17, 2011

Michael Maren: Is 3 Cups of Tea a Fraud?

Michael Maren writes:
The feel-good foreign aid story of the decade may be an elaborate hoax. The man whose best selling book has been required reading in grade schools around the country appears to be a liar, liar, pants on fire con artist. (Two years ago my son’s entire school read the book.)

“Significantly, Mortenson’s origin story — of being saved by a remote village in Afghanistan and promising to build a school for them — appears to be a fabrication.”

The man who Mortenson identified as one of his Taliban captors is in fact a research director of a respected think tank in Islamabad.

“And according to “60 Minutes,” Mortenson’s charity, the Central Asia Institute, has spent more money in the the U.S. talking about education in Pakistan and Afghanistan than actually building and supporting schools there.”

If even some of these allegations are true, Mortenson’s transgression makes James Frey’s fabrications look like piddling inaccuracies. In the end, who cares if Frey made up his story? Oprah had her feelings hurt and a lot of inspiration-seeking readers of memoir were tricked into reading a novel. I expect that Mortenson will argue, eventually, that he’s done a lot of good for the people of Afghanistan, that his ends justify his means. But now, even his ends need to be called into question.

And in any case, the ends don’t justify the means. And it does matter if his we-are-the-world take on the helping impoverished people is a fiction. Because there are real people out there with real needs and the world has a moral obligation to do something about it, not just get the warm and fuzzies over a self-created hero of charity like Greg Mortenson.

LATE BREAKING: From Mortenson “I stand by the information conveyed in my book,” … “and by the value of CAI’s work in empowering local communities to build and operate schools that have educated more than 60,000 students.”

Dear Greg, and what’s your message to the millions of American students who read your book? It’s okay to lie and make up stories to turn yourself into a hero?

In addition: Mortenson was slated to win the $100,000.00 Grawemeyer Education prize from the University of Louisville in September.

Time Mag: “Looks like Mortenson’s writing has the potential to be shattered into a million little pieces.”
BTW, I wrote about Greg Mortenson and his relationship with the US military in Afghanistan, personified by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, in July 2009. I said at the time:
Admiral Michael G. Mullen gives serious cause to worry about our military strategy in Central Asia, if he really has fallen for the self-serving promotional pablum Greg Mortensen has peddled to gullible customers with such success in his best-sellers...
For some reason, 60 Minutes failed to mention Mortenson's funding by the US Department of Defense.