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The people who have filed this lawsuit against Greg Mortenson can have Three Cups of Shut the… you get the picture

August 29, 2011

From The Christian Science Monitor:

More trouble – and scrutiny – is brewing for “Three Cups of Tea” author Greg Mortenson. Claims that Mr. Mortenson fabricated events in his bestselling book, first aired on a CBS “60 Minutes” special in April are receiving renewed attention as the author’s attorneys fight a $5 million class action lawsuit against Mortenson.

The plaintiffs – former teacher Deborah Netter of Illinois and Montana residents Michele Reinhart and Dan Donovan – claim that Mortenson fooled 4 million people into buying his books by fabricating stories and portraying false events as true, in order to make Mortenson look like a hero and to raise money.

I find this disturbing, and I’m not talking about what Mortenson has apparently done (well, that too). Rather, I’m referring to the fact that a few people have taken it upon themselves to actually file this lawsuit. I think it sets a very scary precedent. To be able to file lawsuits against authors who you perceive as having “tricked” you could, theoretically, create an environment in which particular groups of people will band together to effectively silence authors they simply don’t like.

Mortenson, if I may be so bold, has every right to lie to you – so long as it doesn’t do you any serious injury. Large donors to his organization would have good cause to want their money back; and I could see a suit in that case. But to file a class action because you feel dumb and are maybe out $20? That just seems to lower the bar much too far, and could have chilling consequences.

The article quoted also presents the position of Mortenson and his lawyers, which I think is pretty strong; and my guess is that this is a case that won’t go all that far in the end. But then I’m not even remotely a lawyer, so who can say?

Regardless, I don’t like this. I don’t like it at all.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2011 10:05 pm

    I find it quite encouraging. Now I can sue all of the mystery authors who sucked me into thinking the butler did it. This could be a real moneymaker for me!

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    • August 29, 2011 10:21 pm

      I know, that’s what scares me. And what if a bunch of people came along and sued me for never even finishing my book after reading my blog for so long? Of course, that would mean I’d have to have a lot of people who read my blog… so maybe that would be ok. Hmmm…

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  2. August 30, 2011 4:02 pm

    Wait a minute: you mean a Democrat is calling for tort reform? But suing for an apparent grievance is a pillar of American culture. “In Ius Voco Spurius!”

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    • August 30, 2011 5:25 pm

      Ha. We’re not all as beholden to the “party” as we may seem. The key word in your comment though is, of course, apparent. I seriously don’t see how these people were wronged at all. It’s not like the books had cheap, imported, poison ink in them or anything.

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  3. August 31, 2011 8:36 pm

    The writers of the Bible got out of town just in time.

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  4. Jane b montgomery permalink
    September 4, 2011 11:14 pm

    Uh, his lying has done a huge amount of harm — in the name of charity, specifically: it was done on behalf of conning money for a sham charitable organization, much of that money taken from schoolchildren who raised pennies for peace (actually for mortenson’s personal enrichment and private jet). All of which has been very carefully documented.

    http://www.charitywatch.org/articles/MortensonResignCentralAsiaInstitute.html

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    • September 5, 2011 8:22 pm

      Mortenson scammed the charities and their donors, who – if you’ll notice – I believe do have the right to file suit so that the money they donated actually goes to the charities and not into his pocket. However, from everything I’ve read on the matter, this particular suit is a “class action” brought on the behalf of everyone who purchased his book – which is ridiculous since they can’t possibly know the particular reasons that any individual actually purchased the book in the first place.

      I’m not saying Greg Mortenson isn’t a jerk, just that the reasons for filing a suit by these people in this case are far too weak to justify their case. So weak, in fact, that were this suit to prove fruitful for the plaintiffs it would potentially open a door by which any sufficiently large group could effectively silence a single author that they don’t agree with just by virtue of burying him in lawsuits.

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  5. Susan Hale Whitmore permalink
    September 11, 2011 9:18 pm

    Hey, everyone ~ the Central Asia Institute is doing fine. Check out http://www.ikat.org, click on Projects / Regional Map / Master List & Key. You will see basic data on EVERY project CAI and GM have EVER been involved in, with its current status.

    Also, Greg Mortenson never cheated anyone:

    >CAI states clearly and publicly that all donations through Pennies for Peace have always gone into a separate P4P bank account and that NO admin funds are paid from that account ~ only supplies and uniforms for the children at their overseas schools.

    >The money raised in donations to CAI through GM’s travels and speeches SO HUGELY EXCEEDS the cost of those trips that the institute has long benefitted more financially than he ever will as an individual. That includes chartered jet travel so he could accept as many speaking engagements as possible to reach as many potential donors as possible to benefit CAI’s work as much as possible.

    >CAI’s tax filings as a nonprofit do show a tremendous growth in donations through 2010 without a commensarate growth in spending at the A. & P. end of things ~ for 2 reasons. One, the institue simply could not ramp up that fast. Two, much of the 2009-2010 donation total was set aside as an ENDOWMENT for future work. You know — the way private colleges periodically have a Capital Fund Drive??

    P.S. to MEK ~ couldn’t agree more with your posting about the civil suit!!

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    • September 15, 2011 9:50 pm

      To be clear, and I’m not sure if you work for the CAI or what, my defense of Greg Mortenson extends only to arguing that the lawsuit brought against him by readers is bogus. I did finally read Krakauer’s book last night, and it’s a pretty damning account of what Mortenson was allegedly up to. Anyway, thanks (belatedly) for the comment. I appreciate all viewpoints.

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