Friday, April 22, 2011

Who Do We Trust?

I’m not sure how I feel about the controversy over Greg Mortenson. I was shocked and appalled because, of course I had read Three Cups of Tea—twice as a matter of fact, and posted on my blog. I just re-read my post and I mentioned that when we heard him speak at a local high school there were about 2000 people there. And I wrote: “People are so hungry for inspiration; it was very clear to us that we were in the presence of humble greatness.”

After the speech, a teacher we knew mentioned that Mortenson had insisted on a limousine to bring him from the hotel to the high school, and that usually the Superintendent drove guest speakers around. At the time, we found that odd; now we know that is the standard for him.

To add to my concern, earlier this month I read Little Princes by Conor Grennan and wrote a post about it. Somehow, as I was reading Little Princes, I felt a closer connection to the author because of his love of children. The author seemed like a regular guy recording a unique experience in his life. Or am I just gullible?

I don’t know any more. I do know this about myself, I occasionally don’t want the facts to get in the way of a good story—or so my children say in accusation. And readers crave a good story. So, my questions are: When does the need to make the story inspiring come at the expense of good journalism? How much leeway do we give people writing memoirs? What if the author makes millions off an erroneous story? What then?

And then, of course, there are a whole series of questions that can be asked about transparency in non-profits. And questions about the need to skewer an entire organization that may be doing good work because of an exposé on 60 Minutes. It seems, in part, that we like to see the mighty fall, as much as we like to be inspired by them. We love a good scandal.

But then, of course, there is the matter of the $100,000 that came to the Central Asia Institute, Mortenson’s non-profit, from President Obama’s Nobel Prize winnings. And all the millions that were donated to Pennies for Peace. How much of that money went for its intended purpose?

All in all, I am left with more questions than answers.

Here is the article by Jon Krakauer which precipitated this avalanche of bad publicity. It is published as a Kindle single and available here:

And a very thoughtful article on the New Yorker website:

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