Author cancels event after ‘60 Minutes’ report

By Bronislaus B. Kush
Worcester Telegram & Gazette / April 24, 2011

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WORCESTER — Greg Mortenson, the award-winning author and philanthropist credited with building several schools for impoverished students in Pakistan and Afghanistan, has canceled his appearance next month in Worcester, days after CBS’s “60 Minutes’’ broadcast a report questioning the scope of his charitable work.

Mortenson, whose book, “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time,’’ has sold at least 4 million copies internationally and has remained a New York Times bestseller since its release in 2007, was scheduled to speak May 3 at a Mechanics Hall event sponsored by the Massachusetts Conference United Church of Christ and the Worcester Area Mission Society.

The event’s organizers said Mortenson canceled because of “health concerns.’’

Deborah J. Weiner, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Conference United Church of Christ, said her organization was told that Mortenson was having surgery in Bozeman, Mont., to repair a hole in his heart and would be unable to fulfill his Worcester commitment.

Mortenson, through the Central Asia Institute, which he cofounded, is credited with establishing about 180 schools and another five dozen temporary schools in volatile rural areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Last Sunday, “60 Minutes’’ questioned the breadth of Mortenson’s work, charging that he took credit for building a number of facilities that do not exist.

The news program also took issue with the accuracy of “Three Cups of Tea,’’ the book about his life that Mortenson co-authored.

“The Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ is deeply concerned about the allegations made by CBS during its ‘60 Minutes’ broadcast,’’ said the Rev. Susan Dickerman, associate conference minister for leadership development at the conference.

In an e-mail sent to supporters last week, Mortenson said “60 Minutes’’ painted “a distorted picture using untrue information.’’