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Greg Mortenson: when 'do gooders' become celebrities

The truth is still being sifted about Greg Mortenson, best-selling author and philanthropist. But maybe an early warning came when the story became all about him.

By Staff Writer / May 2, 2011

In this July 2009 photo, “Three Cups of Tea” co-author Greg Mortenson shows the locations of future village schools to U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the opening of Pushghar Village Girls School 60 miles north of Kabul in Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan.

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Department of Defense/AP/File

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The Greg Mortenson story continues to play out as a slow motion tragedy.

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The "60 Minutes" report (see video here) alleging fabrications in his book "Three Cups of Tea" itself is now receiving scrutiny. In a series of interviews with the editorial director of Outside magazine, Alex Heard, Mortenson conceded he had made mistakes both in "Three Cups of Tea," and in the way he has managed his nonprofit group, the Central Asia Institute (CAI). But he also disputes the most serious allegations against him.

A prominent voice in the "60 Minutes" piece, journalist Jon Krakauer, has written his own scathing critique of Mr. Mortenson's conduct in an online article called "Three Cups of Deceit" (payment required). Mr. Krakauer claims Mortenson, who has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, is "not what he appears to be" and that Mortenson "has not only fabricated substantial parts of his bestselling books Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools but has also misused millions of dollars donated by unsuspecting admirers...."

But in a response in Outside magazine, Mortenson's climbing partner Scott Darsney says both the "60 Minutes" and Krakauer reports are distorted – at least in part. “If Jon Krakauer and some of Greg's detractors had taken the time to have three or more cups of tea with Greg and others – instead of one cup of tea with a select few who would discredit him – they would have found some minor problems and transgressions," Mr. Darsney says. "But to the extent to call it all 'lies' and 'fraud'? No way.”

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