Recently, I finished a book that sent me on a journey that I think everyone should experience for themselves. The book, “Three Cups of Tea”, written by David Oliver Relin & Greg Mortenson is a story of a failed mountain summit ( Greg on K2 ), getting lost on the descent, and recovering for spending days in a little village in Pakistan called Korphe. Greg eventually is nursed back to health, and plans to continue on his journey. Upon leaving the impoverished village, Greg promises to return and build them a school to educate their children. Once back home, in the United States, he gathers donations and heads back to Pakistan. He learns that the village chief wants a bridge first, so he build the bridge, then the school the following year.
After a few visits back and forth, the Central Asia Institute ( CAI ), a non-profit foundation is created, funded by the generous proceeds of a dying friend. Funds provide many more trips, and a handful of schools are also built. In his book, he outlines his great success, travels, and even a story of getting captured by the Taliban for 8 days. Greg completes and publishes his book, and it becomes wildly popular, sitting on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 2 years. Greg spend much of his time traveling around, doing book tours and speaking engagements, at up to $30k an event in income.
After many years, doubts about Greg’s success, the accuracy of his stories, and rumblings of mismanagement of funds start to raise some eyebrows. Jon Krakauer and 60 minutes break a story, giving proof that Greg did not visit Korphe on his travels back from K2, that he did not get kidnapped by the Taliban, and more importantly, that Greg had used the foundation’s money to pay for travel to his speaking engagements, yet kept the income for himself. He also would not show receipts for his expenses, had a board that would not hold him accountable, and did not build and maintain the amount of schools he had claimed. The news program triggered an investigation with the Montana attorney general, where it was determined that CAI could only provided receipts for just 38 percent of their credit card charges spanning several months.
Jon Krakauer’s book, “Three Cups of Deceit” carefully enumerates through the claims and stories in the book, and sheds the light of truth. The first third of the book, where Greg spends many days in Korphe, and gathers his strength, was a complete fabrication. Even his climbing partner says that they only became separated for a couple hours, and the route Greg said he took was not correct. Krakauer give evidence of the mismanagement of funds, of testimony of Greg using the CAI as a personal ATM, and of the millions of dollars spent on Greg’s travel, family vacations and book tours, that resulted in personal income, and not donations back to the CAI.
Jon’s book is wonderfully written, with carefully laid out arguments, using highly researched data to prove his points. The book has clear references, succinct points, and does a fantastic job in uncovering the truth behind Greg’s fictional book and poor management practices.
Next in our journey, is a documentary by Jennifer Jordan named, “3000 cups of tea” that attempts to tell Greg’s side of the story. Its main points are that the schools do exist, Greg does not think like a Westerner, and therefore has no good concepts of running a NGO with basic accounting practices. Her documentary has interviews with Greg and his wife, she travels to visit the schools, and also interviews several people involved with the CAI and its programs.
3000 cups of tea has weak appeals and is full of fallacies. Jennifer asserts that because 60 minutes did not travel as she did, their data is not accurate, and her information is, simply on the fact that she was on location. It is full of poor emotional appeals, strawman arguments and misrepresentation of correlation and causation. Greg and his wife claim that the way the data was presented was unfair, and that Krakauer was only out to get them, even though there is overwhelming evidence to support their misuse of funds. The documentary is riddled with attacks on the process of investigation and journalism, but never gets to the heart of the problem.
The best part for me, is a great interview done by KUER here in Salt Lake City, where Jennifer and Jon meet and present their sides of the story. Jon does a fine job in using his professional research to make valid points, disprove Jennifer’s claims, and shows how inaccurate her logic is, and that she uses weak emotional appeals, rather than the truth or logical arguments. ( My favorite part is when Jon reads directly from Greg’s book & Jennifer gets frustrated )
Reading the books, seeing the news program, watching the documentary and finally listening to the KUER interview was a great way to see the difference between careful research and writing verses using fallacies to make an argument. These materials could easily be a school teacher’s dream, as they teach students in a logic or communications class.
It was very interesting and educational to go through this process, and learning about this unusual story. I highly recommend you get through all this material, and experience it for yourself.
Greg’s Book : https://www.amazon.com/Three-Cups-Tea-Mission-Promote/dp/0143038257/
Jon’s Book : https://www.amazon.com/Three-Cups-Deceit-Mortenson-Humanitarian/dp/0307948765/
60 Minutes program : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gw4HS_E7Yss
Jennifer’s Documentary : http://www.3000cupsoftea.org
KUER interview : http://radiowest.kuer.org/post/controversy-over-three-cups-tea
Followup article from Jon : http://www.thedailybeast.com/is-it-time-to-forgive-greg-mortenson