"Three Cups of Tea" author Greg Mortenson sent an email to supporters today, calling a CBS News program "60 Minutes" report that criticized his memoir and alleged financial improprieties "a distorted picture using inaccurate information."
Mortenson, a three-time Nobel Prize nominee, recounted in the book how he was inspired to help establish schools, especially for girls in Pakistan, after he got lost while hiking there and stumbled upon the village of Korphe, where he was taken in and cared for by the villagers.
The "60 Minutes" segment aired today, alleged that the story is a fabrication and that Mortenson uses his charitable organization as a "private ATM machine."
Among the show's other allegations against Mortenson -- who has sold millions of copies of his best-selling book about traveling and later building schools in Pakistan -- were that his charitable organization has taken credit for building schools that don't actually exist or were built by others.
"Three Cups of Tea," tells the tale of this experience, and how his time with the villagers inspired him to return to the region to build a school for girls.
"As those of you who know me and have supported my work over the years will recognize, the story being framed by '60 Minutes' to air in a few hours today -- as far as we can tell -- paints a distorted picture using inaccurate information, innuendo and a microscopic focus on one year's (2009) IRS 990 financial, and a few points in the book 'Three Cups of Tea' that occurred almost 18 years ago," Mortenson wrote in the email today.
"The Board of Directors and I made the very difficult decision to not engage with '60 Minutes' on camera, after they attempted an eleventh hour aggressive approach to reach me, including an ambush in front of children at a book signing at a community service leadership convention in Atlanta," he wrote. "It was clear that the program's disrespectful approach would not result in a fair, balanced or objective representation of our work, my books or our vital mission."
Among those who have publicly declared their doubt about Mortenson's account of his early experiences in Pakistan is Jon Krakauer, author of bestsellers "Into the Wild" and "Into Thin Air."
In the email, Mortenson said he had also turned down a request from Krakauer for an interview.
Porters who met Mortenson on his mountain trip in Pakistan dispute his being lost at the time and have said that he only stumbled into the village while returning from hiking K2, the second-highest mountain on Earth, according to the "60 Minutes" report. They allege that he didn't visit Korphe and meet the villagers mentioned in the book until a year later.
"It's a beautiful story. And it's a lie," Krakauer told CBS News. "I have spoken to one of [Mortenson's] companions, a close friend who hiked out from K2 with him, and this companion said, 'Greg never heard of Korphe until a year later.'"
"If you read the first few chapters of that book, you realize, 'I am being taken for a ride here,'" he added.
According to the website of the Central Asia Institute, which was co-founded by Mortenson and Jean Hoerni, the non-profit has established more than 170 schools and helped educate more than 68,000 students, with an emphasis on girls' education.