Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea, the wildly popular book about educating girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan that influenced church groups and top military brass alike, was partially faked, according to a CBS 60 Minutes investigation aired Sunday night.
"We began investigating complaints from former donors, board members, staffers, and charity watchdogs about Mortenson and the way he is running his non-profit organization," said CBS' 60 Minutes. "We found there are serious questions about how millions of dollars have been spent, whether Mortenson is personally benefiting, and whether some of the most dramatic and inspiring stories in his books are even true."
One of the sections under criticism is the opening passage, which tells the story of how Mortenson got lost during his descent from an attempt at the mountain K2 and stumbled, exhausted, into the village of Korphe. The people of Korphe, he writes, nursed him to health, eventually inspiring his mission to build schools in the remote region.
The truth, however, is that Mortenson did not visit Korphe until a year after his attempted summit of K2.
"The time about our final days on K2 and ongoing journey to Korphe village and Skardu is a compressed version of events that took place in the fall of 1993," said Mortenson in an interview with the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, his local newspaper.
Fellow mountaineer and author Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air and Into The Wild, disagrees with even that characterization.
"I have spoken to one of his companions, a close friend, who hiked out from K2 with him and this companion said Greg never heard of Korphe till a year later," said Krakauer.
Mortenson has been largely absent from the public sphere since the allegations leaked out in advance of the show. He told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that he was diagnosed with a hole in his heart on Friday, and is expected to undergo surgery this week.
"I hope these allegations and attacks, the people doing these things, know this could be devastating for tens of thousands of girls, for the sake of Nielsen ratings and Emmys," Mortenson said.
CBS' 60 Minutes also accuses Mortenson's Central Asia Institute of financial impropriety.
Mortenson's book has been widely apopted by counterinsurgency specialists in the U.S. military, and is required reading for U.S. troops deploying to Afghanistan.