Fontbonne University / Greg Mortenson
2:31 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Fontbonne University rescinding graduation speech invite to "Three Cups of Tea" author

Updated 1:45 p.m. April 28:

Via the Associated Press:

Fontbonne University announced Thursday that the "Three Cups of Tea" co-author won't deliver its May 21 commencement speech nor receive an honorary degree.

The school noted in a brief statement that it has been unable to reach Mortenson to discuss allegations raised in a recent "60 Minutes" investigation (see below for details). The CBS News program reported that the book is filled with inaccuracies and that Mortenson's charitable organization has taken credit for building schools that don't exist.

Faculty and student leaders at the private Catholic school also voted to rescind Mortenson's invitation. The author has become a celebrated humanitarian for his work establishing schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Original Story:

You may have seen the CBS "60 minutes" segment about "Three Cups of Tea" author Greg Mortenson, and if you haven't, here it is:

In short, the segment is, as NPR's "The Two-Way" puts it, "damaging" for Mortenson. 

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's "Book Blog" has highlighted a local connection to the situation.

Fontbonne University has Mortensen scheduled as their commencement speaker on May 21. He's also supposed to receive an honorary doctorate of letters.

Following the airing of the "60 Minutes" segment, however, the Post-Dispatch reports that event may or may not happen as planned:

On Monday, all the president's office would say is that plans with Mortenson were "under review," said spokeswoman Elizabeth Hise Brennan.

So, what are the main points against Mortenson?

NPR's "The Two Way" explains:

[The segment alleges] that many of the stories in the book are exaggerated or outright fabrications and questioning the financial practices of his charity, the Central Asia Institute.

Questioned is the seminal story in the book telling how Mortenson stumbled into the village of Korphe after failing to summit Pakistan's K2.

"It's a beautiful story and it's a lie," Jon Krakauer, the author of Into Thin Air and Into The Wild, tells CBS. Krakauer was an early supporter of Mortenson but, according to CBS, withdrew financial support for his charity after a few years over concerns about how it was being managed.

Since then, Krakauer and others have begun to question Mortenson's account of events in Three Cups of Tea. Krakauer says the story of visiting Korphe in 1993 is untrue.

CBS questions another narrative in the book, one in which Mortenson claims he was kidnapped by the Taliban and held for several days. A photo showing Mortenson with his alleged kidnappers is staged, and the people in the photo, some of which 60 Minutes tracked down, are not Taliban, the program says.

Mortensen has also released a statement about the situation in which he says "[I] stand by the information conveyed in my book and by the value of CAI's work in empowering local communities."