Author with ties to former Rep. Mary Bono responds to criticism of ‘Three Cups’

January 20th, 2014 | by Erica Felci | Comments

Three years after the bestselling book “Three Cups of Tea” was publicly debunked, author Greg Mortenson is returning to the spotlight to explain himself.

Three CupsMortenson will be featured Tuesday on NBC’s Today show, discussing the 2011 unraveling of his inspirational story about building schools for underserved children in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

According to Today, Mortenson says that stories happened but not in the way they are portrayed.

“It still just has puzzled me and why there wasn’t, at some point, in your mind, an alarm that went off and said, ‘this just isn’t right in some way,’” reporter Tom Brokaw asks in the interview airing Tuesday.

“There were alarms, Tom,” Mortenson replies. “I didn’t listen to them. I was willing to basically kill myself to raise money and help the projects.”

“Three Cups of Tea” has a direct tie to the Coachella Valley.

In the book, Mortenson credits then-Rep. Mary Bono for connecting with Washington’s leadership by describing him as “someone you need to meet.” The Palm Springs Republican also organized a lecture to help raise his profile with federal lawmakers.

“Mary spent an entire day with me, showing me how everything worked,” Mortenson said in the book, which features a photo with Bono.

“She walked me through a tunnel between her office and the Capitol, with dozens of other representatives on their way to vote, and along the way, introduced me to everyone. She had all these congressmen blushing like schoolboys.”

Bono later introduced legislation to award Mortenson with a Congressional Gold Medal.

“I meet so many people day in and day out who say they’re trying to do good and help people,” Bono is quoted as saying in the book. “But Greg is the real thing. He’s walking the walk. And I’m his biggest fan.”

In 2011, Bono issued a one-sentence statement about the criticism to The Desert Sun:

“I believe in Greg and the work he is doing under very challenging circumstances.”

Mortenson spoke to a Coachella Valley crowd in 2008 as part of a local lecture series.

Three years later, the well-received book came under the spotlight of “60 Minutes,” which found a series of inaccuracies and contradictions

That report cited “Into the Wild” author Jon Krakauer as among the critics of Mortenson’s story of being lost while mountain climbing in rural Pakistan in 1993. In the book, he says he stumbled upon the village of Korphe, where the kindness of local residents inspired him to build a school.

The CBS program also reported that nearly $60 million had been raised, but much of it was spent promoting Mortenson and his books.

At the time, Mortenson stood by his work.

But Today notes that in 2012, he paid back $1 million to the nonprofit Central Asia Institute amid concerns that he had misspent donations.

“I’ve been given the privilege to come back again and be committed to this and do it in a more humble and — understanding way,” Mortenson says in the interview airing Tuesday. “I’m gonna try as hard as I can never to make the same mistakes again.”

Photo caption: In a photo from the book “Three Cups of Tea,” author Greg Mortenson is briefing Rep. Mary Bono on the latest developments in Afghanistan.


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