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Greg Mortenson hasn’t spoken to any major media outlets about 60 Minutes’ report that he fabricated key parts of his best-selling memoir, Three Cups of Tea.
But in an interview with Outside magazine (posted on their Web site Monday), he admits that one of the disputed events in the book — a trip to Korphe, a remote mountain village in Pakistan where he built the first of more than 100 schools — was, like other trips in the book, a combination of several trips to the village.
He said his co-author David Oliver Relin was largely responsible for making editorial decisions like that.
Rather than telling the story of two or three trips to a location, Relin “would synthesize it into one trip,” Mortenson said. “I would squawk about it and be told it would all work out.”
The magazine specifically asked him: “So you’re saying you were new to the process, busy, and you were naïve about how nonfiction is written. And they were sometimes saying, “Let’s tell it this way, it’s better?”
And Mortenson replied, “Yes, definitely. I was also overseas a lot, in Afghanistan — we had been really launching there since 2000. When I was there, David would read the manuscript to me over the phone, and so forth.”
Asked whether he questioned the accuracy of parts of the book when he first read it, Mortenson responded: “Yeah. Especially in regards to the timing. Like, you know, you went there three times, twice you went there in the fall, so let’s just make it one fall trip. At the end of the book, I took three trips up to northern Afghanistan, over about a year and a half. Those were synthesized into one trip.”
In a statement Monday, Mortenson’s publisher, Viking, said that after the 60 Minutes report, it “plans to carefully review the materials with the author.”
Three Cups of Tea was first published in 2006 and has since been a popular paperback.
It may be the latest embarrassment for the publishing industry over partly-fabricated memoirs in recent years, notably James Frey‘s A Million Little Pieces.
The 60 Minutes report claimed that Mortenson did not get lost and stumble into a remote mountain village on his way down from K2, the world’s second-highest peak, and that he did not visit the village until a year later, according to expedition porters.
Mortenson told 60 Minutes in a statement that he first visited the village in 1993, and went back each of the following three years. He suggested the discrepancy could be because the “Balti people have a completely different notion about time.”
“The concept of past and future is rarely of concern,” he said. “Often tenses are left out of discussion, although everyone knows what is implied.”
60 Minutes also disputed Mortenson’s account in Three Cups of Tea, of being kidnapped in the Waziristan region of Pakistan in 1996. His second book, Stones into Schools, publishes a photograph of his alleged captors.
The program located four of the men who were there when the photo of Mortenson was taken and two of whom were actually in the picture. All denied that they had kidnapped Mortenson.
Mortenson’s stood by his story, saying he was detained in Waziristan for eight days in 1996. “It was against my will, and my passports and money were taken from me,” he said.
Mortenson’s charity, the Central Asia Institute, founded in 1996, has built schools, mostly for girls, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But 60 Minutes said about roughly half of 30 schools listed on the charity’s tax forms were empty, built by someone else or not receiving any support.
-Reuters contributed to this report.
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