Following the airing on Sunday of a "60 Minutes" segment that questioned many of the "facts" in his best-selling 2006 memoir Three Cups of Tea, author Greg Mortenson has denied allegations of fraud in an e-mail to supporters, the New York Times and Christian Science Monitor report. The exposé featured Jon Krakauer — fellow best-selling author who donated $75,000 to Mortenson's charity but later ended his association with it because of accountability and transparency concerns.
Among other things, the "60 Minutes" segment questioned Mortenson's claim that, lost and dehydrated after failing to summit K2, the world's second-highest mountain, in 1993, he stumbled on the small village of Korphe, in northeast Pakistan. There, Mortenson writes in the book, villagers nursed him back to health. Grateful, he pledged to return and build a school. But according to "60 Minutes," Mortenson didn't visit Korphe until nearly a year after his failed attempt to climb K2. The "60 Minutes" team also claimed that some of the schools allegedly built by the Central Asia Institute (CAI), the charity Mortenson established in 1996 to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, either do not exist or were built by other organizations. While tax forms filed by the charity list the locations of the schools it has built and how many students they serve, "60 Minutes" said that when it visited nearly thirty of the schools, it found that roughly half were empty, built by someone else, or were not receiving support from CAI.
Jeff McMillan, Mortenson's personal assistant, told the Times that in some cases CAI paid for the construction of the schools, while in others it covered expenses such as teachers' salaries or supplies. "I don't know when CBS was there, but if it was when school was out, the schools would appear to be empty," McMillan added. CAI's board and Mortenson responded, in writing, to questions submitted to them in advance of the broadcast.
Despite the controversy, Farhatullah Babar — a spokesman for Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari, who invited Mortenson to have tea with him in 2009 — told the Monitor that the government was treating the allegations with caution. "One has to find out the detail because often a number of media reports turn out to be incorrect," said Babar. "Until one knows what the story really is, one can't move forward."