The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Three Cups of Scam

Posted on | April 30, 2011 | 6 Comments

I’ve previous blogged about how Greg Mortenson’s best-selling book, Three Cups of Tea, was exposed as fraudulent, casting doubts on Mortenson’s idea of peace through education. Now it seems that some donors are wising up to the too-good-to-be-true claims of Mortenson’s imitators:

Former Marine Capt. Rye Barcott heads up a grass-roots nonprofit to help slum dwellers in Kenya. Like other charismatic do-gooders with an interesting story to tell, he has written a memoir to promote his charity and the idea of grass-roots development work. Late last month, he kicked off a 26-city book tour, visiting stores, campuses, businesses and churches as the launch of an ambitious effort to expand the donor base for his group, Carolina for Kibera, which runs a health clinic, a soccer program and other community services in Nairobi . . .
Mr. Barcott is following a template fashioned by a man whom he once considered a hero, Greg Mortenson, author of the best-selling memoir “Three Cups of Tea” and the head of a $20 million-a-year charity for schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mr. Barcott now considers Mr. Mortenson an unfortunate liability. . . .
Mr. Barcott finds himself questioned at many appearances about allegations that Mr. Mortenson’s memoir contains false passages and that Mr. Mortenson’s charity has mishandled millions in donations. Many people are scrutinizing Mr. Barcott’s organization as never before. He worries that potential funders will shy away.
“It alters the conversation in a way that is not helpful,” said Mr. Barcott. . . .

You can read the rest (h/t: Memeorandum). There appears to be no doubt about Barcott’s bona fides, but the problem is that there were no doubts about Mortenson, either, until “60 Minutes” started sniffing around the story. And by attempting to emulate Mortenson’s model — the “charismatic do-gooder” promoting his work with a memoir — Barcott naturally evokes comparisons.

It seems to me that the best system of helping poor people is capitalism. But rich liberals won’t give you a nickel to help spread that message.

So much, then, for my prospect of becoming a “charismatic do-gooder” with a best-selling memoir. But please go ahead and hit the tip jarit’s for the children!

UPDATE: Bruce Bawer at Pajamas Media:

The fallout from the takedown made it clear that zillions of Mortenson’s fans around the world were shocked by the allegations.
I wasn’t. When I first heard Mortenson speak at a conference two years ago, I was unaware what a big deal he was. Indeed, as far as I can remember it was the first time I’d ever heard of him. I was immediately appalled. He was swaggering, slick, self-satisfied. . . .
[I]t was impossible to forget Greg Mortenson’s name. For he was the star of his own story. The whole point of his talk was how much one brave, selfless individual can accomplish in this world even against the most formidable of odds. And that individual was him. The premise of his spiel was that he’s a miracle worker, pacifying belligerent jihadist types by sitting down with them over three cups of tea and listening to their concerns. Yet the egomaniac I saw that day was somebody you couldn’t picture listening to anybody else for more than thirty seconds. . . .
[T]he whole dog-and-pony show wasn’t really about Afghani children; it was about Mortenson and his book.

Read the whole thing. Bawer wonders if 21st-century Americans are suffering from “bullsh*t detector” malfunction.

UPDATE II: You will perhaps not be surprised to learn that Mortenson’s second book, Stones Into Schools, was on the reading list at the University of Kentucky’s prestigious Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce.

You will, perhaps be surprised that UK professor Robert Farley has declared that Mortenson’s book will stay on the reading list “to indicate the difficulty of monitoring NGO behavior, as well as to familiarize students with the controversy over Mortenson’s work.”

Sure, professor. Whatever you say.

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