The publisher of "Three Cups of Tea" said today it wants to review "60 Minutes'" allegations that author Greg Mortenson fabricated parts of the best-selling memoir and overstated his humanitarian achievements.
A segment of the "60 Minutes news program that aired Sunday reported that a key section of the book -- how Mortenson got lost while hiking in Pakistan and stumbled upon the village of Korphe, where he was taken in and cared for by the villagers -- is a fabrication.
The central conceit of "Three Cups of Tea" is that Mortenson's time with the villagers inspired him to return to the region to build a school for girls, setting him off on a campaign to build dozens of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"60 Minutes" also reported in the segment that the Central Asian Institute, Mortenson's charitable organization, had taken credit for building schools that didn't actually exist or were built by others, and that it spent more money on self-promotion than on humanitarian efforts.
Viking Books, Mortenson's publisher, seemed to support him in a short statement released today but also said it would investigate the claims made in the "60 Minutes" report.
"Greg Mortenson's work as a humanitarian in Afghanistan and Pakistan has provided tens of thousands of children with an education," the statement said. "'60 Minutes' is a serious news organization and in the wake of their report, Viking plans to carefully review the materials with the author."
Mortenson defended himself Sunday in an email to supporters before the "60 Minutes" segment aired, calling the report that criticized his memoir and accused him of financial improprieties "a distorted picture using inaccurate information.
"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 the 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 say that he didn't visit Korphe and meet the villagers mentioned in the book until a year later.