April 19, 2011

Read Jon Krakauer's long-form report on the Three Cups of Tea scandal AND help stop human trafficking of girls



One of the "schools" built by Greg Mortenson's charity

Via GalleyCat. Literary scandals, a showdown between two bestselling authors, dueling Asian charities, a revolutionary new electronic reading platform startup, and a free content promotional giveaway straight out of the new e-marketing playbook—there are so many noteworthy publishing stories packed into this story my head is spinning.

First off, as MobyLives reported yesterday, 60 Minutes did an expose on Greg Mortenson, the mega-bestselling author of Three Cups of Tea, claiming that portions of his book are fabricated, his school-building charity, The Central Asia Institute, is grossly mismanaged, and that some of the schools it claims to have built do not even exist.

Since then, his publisher, Viking, has announced an investigation, and Mortenson, while denying the charges, has nonetheless given two interviews, such as this one with his hometown newspaper the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and another, with Outside Magazine, that essentially confirm key parts of the 60 Minutes story (such as admitting that he did indeed “condense” elements of the story, and maybe didn’t wander lost and frozen from a mountaineering expedition into a remote village. That trip, as 60 Minutes reported, happened a year later, Mortenson now says. Meaning, apparently, he made up the story about getting lost while mountain climbing.)

One of Mortenson’s primary critics is the bestselling author Jon Krakauer who appeared in the 60 Minutes report to debunk many of his former-friend’s claims. Now you can read Krakauer’s extended long-form report “Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way” at the newly unveiled Byliner.com, a new site devoted to selling quality long-form writing in an electronic form. The site seems very similar to The Atavist, recently heralded by David Carr in The New York Times as part of “a renaissance for longer articles.”

What’s more, for those disillusioned with Mortenson’s charity, or for those suspicious that Krakauer is using the scandal for ill-gotten gains, all of the author proceeds from sales of Krakauer’s article will go to Stop Girl Trafficking in the Himalayas. However, for 72 hours Byliner is making Krakauer’s article downloadable for free, part of the new eBook publishing trend to give away content to “spur sales”

But doesn’t giving books away mean they’re taking money away from the anti-human trafficking charity? Should you feel bad for downloading the free version, even though you aren’t pirating anything? Or should you have faith that the free promotion is all part of the process of making a bestselling-article (a newly invented category) that will help support the morally superior of the two humanitarian causes? Is it better to get Krakauer’s myth-debunking story for free or to donate to Mortenson’s well-intentioned but deeply flawed charity? Are you a better person if you believed in Mortenson’s storybook version of reality or if you celebrate the bitter truths of the expose? Is Mortenson a hero with a fatal flaw, or a common swindler with a tinfoil halo? I’m a bit lost in the moral maze of it all. All I know is that the supposed “school” on the cover of Krakauer’s “Byliner original” looks like good place to wait out World War III.