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'Three Cups of Tea' author event canceled

Publisher pulled him from Newport event, which means the library's foundation will get its money back.

November 01, 2011|By Mike Reicher

The Newport Beach Public Library Foundation has canceled a November speaking appearance by embattled "Three Cups of Tea" author Greg Mortenson.

The bestselling author was accused of fraud and fabrications in an April "60 Minutes" investigative report.

Mortenson was scheduled to speak Nov. 12 at the OASIS Senior Center as part of the foundation's Martin W. Witte Distinguished Speakers Lecture Series.

His agent at publishing house Penguin pulled him from his speaking engagements for the rest of this year, according to Tracy Keys, executive director of the library foundation.

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"Everybody's disappointed that it worked out this way," Keys said. "Nobody wants to read about someone who appears to do such good work … and have this happen."

Keys said the cancellations came on the advice of Mortenson's attorney. Calls to Penguin representatives to confirm the reason were not returned Tuesday. Earlier this year, Mortenson canceled some engagements because of heart problems.

The Orange County Register was first to report that his Newport appearance had been canceled.

The "60 Minutes" story spotlighted author Jon Krakauer's exposé, titled "Three Cups of Deceit," which challenged some of the central assertions in Mortenson's account of building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The show featured interviews with a fellow mountaineer and several people who knew Mortenson during his travels, as well as officials at schools supposedly built by Mortenson's nonprofit, the Central Asia Institute.

Some of those sources allege that Mortenson fudged the timing of his stories and that an account of his kidnapping by the Taliban is fabricated.

The news team also said the institute spends more money on promoting itself than actually building schools. According to CBS, half a dozen schools listed on the nonprofit's tax return appear not to exist, and other sites have been abandoned or neglected for years.

Mortenson, in an interview with Montana's Bozeman Daily Chronicle, admitted that he had compressed some events in his narrative for simplicity's sake, but stood by the facts otherwise. He also defended his nonprofit's work, saying he has donated more than $100,000 of his own money to the institute and done some speaking engagements for free.

For more than a year, Mortenson had a $38,000 contract to speak in Newport. The library foundation was unable to cancel without losing its $19,000 deposit, even after the "60 Minutes" story came out, Keys said.

Because Penguin canceled, the money will be returned and used for another program.

About 150 pre-sold tickets are being refunded.

Mortenson spoke in Huntington Beach at the city's HB Reads program in 2008, about a year after "Three Cups of Tea" was released. He was that group's first featured author.

mike.reicher@latimes.com

Twitter: @mreicher

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