"60 Minutes" recently ran a piece on Greg Mortenson, best-selling author of Three Cups of Tea, the story of his failed attempt to climb K2 and subsequent encounters with a tribe that nursed him back to health when he got lost during the descent. Mortenson later created the Central Asia Institute (CAI), which claims to have built 140 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Now it appears that the original tale may be false and people who have donated money to the CAI are questioning whether it's being used for Mortenson's personal benefit.
You can read the full story and decide for yourself (link below). In the meantime, let's talk about an author's obligation to readers.
With fiction, you can build as wild and improbable a story as you want. Non-fiction readers expect the truth. Sure, some artistic license is expected; no one wants a dull recitation of facts. Just don't lie to us.
Maybe you're shrugging. So what if he fudged the facts? His intent was good. Why should we care that he may have embellished the most dramatic parts of his books? The CAI has helped hundreds of children, particularly girls, get an education in a war-ravaged area. Surely that counts for something.
Except for the allegations that he spends more CAI money on book tours than schools.
Other writers have fabricated stories. Other charitable founders have used contributions for personal gain. Why get upset?
Because we deserve better. Because the minute we lower our standards and absolve non-fiction authors of any moral or ethical obligation to tell the truth, we invite abuse. If we don't insist on credibility, who will?
You can get the full CBS story here: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/04/15/60minutes/main20054397.shtml