Greg Mortenson Accused of Fraud: Is the '60 Minutes' Report 'Devastating'?

If writers charged with fabricating stories in the past are any indication, Mortenson may not have to worry about being blacklisted

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Reuters


Greg Mortenson became the latest in a long line of non-fiction writers to have their work questioned when 60 Minutes aired a segment this weekend debunking his 2007 book, Three Cups of Tea. The charges put Mortenson in the company of everyone from Pulitzer Prize-winner Rick Bragg to Oprah outcast James Frey: authors whose popular writing is challenge for accuracy.

The 60 Minutes report questions Mortenson's account of how he first came upon Korphe, Pakistan, the village where he founded a school. The segment also alleges the author misuses the money from the charitable organization he founded to support schools in Korphe and other villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mortenson has denied the allegations of fraud and financial irresponsibility, but his publisher, Viking, has launched an investigation to determine the accuracy of Three Cups of Tea. Mortenson said in his defense: "This could be devastating for tens of thousands of girls, for the sake of Nielsen ratings and Emmys."

Do allegations of fraud really have a "devastating" effect on writers? Even if 60 Minutes' claims against Mortenson turn out to be true, he may not be destined to land on the literary blacklist. Publishers and readers alike have a history of forgiving fabulists, as evidenced by these cases:


Of course, Mortenson may not get off as easily as Frey, Bragg, and the others. The charges against them only related to the truthfulness of their writing, not their misuse of money meant for charity. Still, even if Mortenson becomes an international development pariah, chances are he can still make a go of it as a writer.

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Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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