Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ambassador Ryan Crocker defends Three Cups of Tea author

Posted on Wed, Apr 20, 2011 at 1:04 PM

Ryan Crocker, who has been the U.S. ambassador to both Afghanistan and Pakistan during the last decade, defended the school-building work of embattled Montana author and mountaineer, Greg Mortenson, against charges that he and his charity have not built all the schools claimed.

"I do know his work, and it's real," Crocker said while taking questions after delivering a speech Tuesday evening at the Millwood (Wash.) Community Presbyterian Church. "I do know the schools are there. I think he has made a great contribution, and I'm not the only one to think so — USAID thinks so; the U.S. military thinks so.

Mortenson, from Bozeman, is accused on the CBS news show "60 Minutes" of fabricating the number of schools built by his charity, The Central Asia Institute (CAI) and, more seriously, enriching himself through donations to CAI. Here's a  link to the episode.

A Seattle Times columnist, Ron Judd, reflects on his early support for Mortenson and how he and others in the tight-knit mountaineering community now feel sold out. Read his column, Three Cups of Bull.

In it, Judd details how another former Seattle-ite, author and mountaineer, Jon Krakauer was also an early cheerleader for Mortenson (donating $75,000) but who now is so infuriated that he pitched the story of Mortenson's alleged misdeeds to "60 Minutes," and ladles out even more vitriol in his own report. Judd lists these examples:

  •  As CBS reported, Mortenson appears to use charitable contributions to the Central Asia Institue (CAI) to cover the considerable expenses for a highly lucrative speaking tour, with most of the proceeds going into Mortenson's pocket. A private January memo from a tax attorney to the CAI board, quoted by Krakauer, says Mortenson might have to repay his own charity as much as $8 million to avoid breaking tax laws for the years 2007-09.

  • Even the book's seemingly miraculous run atop bestseller lists might be squishy. The charity itself routinely purchases large quantities of the book to be given away at Mortenson speaking engagements, Krakauer writes. Those books are purchased at full retail through traditional booksellers, rather than wholesale direct from the publisher, thus ensuring a royalty cut for Mortenson — and a fake sales boost recorded in sales figures.

 Krakauer's screed can be seen here. It's not free.

Mortenson has begun to fight back this week, saying David Relin, who actually wrote Mortenson's NYT best-seller, "Three Cups of Tea," compressed events in order to create a more engaging narrative. This has resulted in fudged dates, Mortenson says. Read Mediaite's capsule summary of Mortenson's interview with Outside Online. See the Outside Online piece here.

Crocker says he is disheartened by all the charges and counter-charges.

"I'm sorry to see the stuff on Greg Mortenson. To me, this is a literary dispute more than it is a dispute about what he's done for education," Crocker says. "These allegations there are ghost schools are easy to check. You can send people out there. All the schools are in areas that are accessible without too much risk."

The BBC on Wednesday released a story that did just that. Two writers by and large found schools in operation where Mortenson and CAI said there would be schools. In places where the schools were empty, the reporters found interference from government officials, corruption or tortuous bureaucracy. Read the BBC story.

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