In Defense of Greg Mortenson (Part Deux)

Daniel Glick says it better than I could:

60 Minutes expose on Three Cups of Tea is weak – and wrong.

I met Greg Mortenson in Pakistan in 1998, years before he hit national headlines… Mortenson was one of the more interesting people I had met in a lifetime of traveling and writing about interesting people. He was humble, dressed in a dirty shalwar kameez, and seemed about as guileless as anybody I had ever met, with an almost monkish disregard for consumerism or popular culture. He was a bit naïve, it seemed to me, but was obviously pleased with the bridge over the Braldu River that he had helped build, as well as the school in Korphe. Haji Ali and the other Baltis treated him with great affection and respect. He returned the gestures in word and deed.

On the strength of my impressions from that visit alone, I find myself ready to defend Mortenson against what I believe is a seriously deficient 60 Minutes segment, lacking in basic elements of fairness, balance, perspective, insight and context. I was taught in journalism school that if you’re going to take somebody out with a story, do it in a way that you could look that person in the eye in the grocery market the next day. I doubt Steve Kroft – or Jon Krakauer – could do that. Both of them apparently tried to contact Mortenson only at the last minute, which is something that journalists will do when they are after a pro-forma denial, rather than an interview to ascertain truth or even get another side of the story…

I cannot go through the chapter and verse that Krakauer did in his online assassination of Mortenson, and I am certain that he has alienated people and kept bad books. From a few conversations I’ve had today with people who have known Mortenson for years, I have no reason to doubt that Mortenson can be difficult, unconventional, poorly organized, and chronically late to appointments. He is probably ill-suited to run a $20-million-dollar a year non-profit, and seems stubborn enough to ignore good advice from people who otherwise appreciate his work and message. Despite the inference that since he sometimes travels by private jet he must be profligate, there is no evidence I’m aware of that Mortenson lives lavishly. He doesn’t comb his hair much, either, as I recall.

But here’s the crux for me… Mortenson has gone where few others have gone, and has put in incredible time and energy to raise awareness, seed schools, and give girls opportunities for education that would not be theirs otherwise. I have no doubt he has done orders of magnitude more good than harm. The same cannot be said for a lot of NGOs doing development work around the world, much less our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bottom line: the critical parts of his story: the school and his relationship with the Balti villagers are true. We have it from the mouth of a first hand contemporaneous witness.

Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute have done a staggering amount of good. And this attack cannot detract from that, but it can and likely will dampen their support. With any luck, the lull will be temporary.

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One Response to In Defense of Greg Mortenson (Part Deux)

  1. Nooruddin Jalal says:

    Undoubtedly Greg Mortenson is an inspirational charismatic persona for an awakening soul, who believes in construction of the world. His work in Rural areas are praise worthy and deserve high degree of laud than labelling him/his works bull through a controlled powwow by the very creed in West.

    I myself belong to rural part of Pakistan. I can tell this man is doing amazing job for humanity. He has built many schools, he believes in literate society and world. The man is with a mission holding warm breath in his soul towards better society , no force on earth can do anything to him. He is a blessed guy by Al-mighty.

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