I would like to say shukria for the overwhelming response to the CBS show “60 Minutes”, which has said that I have exaggerated my work in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the midst of these difficult and challenging days, I keep thinking about the Persian proverb, “When it is darkest, you can see the stars”.
Although we would like the world to be orderly and peaceful, the reality is that our world is a dynamic, fluid place, often filled with chaos. In that space, I thrive and get the courage to help bring change. I also feel great pride that so many people have chosen to support those who live in the ‘Last Best Places’, where other organisations or governments offer few or no services.
I welcome and am used to facing criticism, which sometimes even turns into hostility, over the important work we do in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As an introvert, it is also not easy to have to enter an arena of a media circus at the drop of a heartbeat. But, as those of you who know me and have supported my work over the years will recognise, the story framed by “60 Minutes” — as far as we can tell — paints a distorted picture using inaccurate information, innuendo and a microscopic focus on one year’s (2009) IRS 990 financial, and a few points in Three Cups of Tea, that occurred almost 18 years ago. Apparently, the CBS programme is to be followed in the near future by a similar negative piece by journalist Jon Krakauer in an unknown magazine.
The board of directors of the Central Asia Institute and I made the very difficult decision to not engage with “60 Minutes” on camera, after they attempted an eleventh-hour aggressive approach to reach me, including an ambush in front of children at a book-signing at a community service leadership convention in Atlanta. It was clear that the programme’s disrespectful approach would not result in a fair, balanced or objective representation of our work, my books or our vital mission. We also turned down a last minute request for an interview with Jon Krakauer.
“60 Minutes” may appear to ask simple questions, but the answers are often complex, not easily encapsulated in 10-second sound bites. We work in isolated areas, in communities that are not on any map, and often in areas of turmoil, religious extremism or natural disasters where education is still relatively rare and ancient codes of conduct and social hierarchies still dominate — all these things demand constant adjustment, accommodation and patience. We have always maintained that our work is about investing in relationships, respecting elders and in listening, and is not in one that lasts just a few minutes on prime time television.
So although I did not do an on-camera interview, the board of directors and I have duly responded to questions provided us late last week by “60 Minutes” with both statements and answers. And, as always, we pride ourselves to be transparent with our financials and IRS 990 forms. I also recently returned from Afghanistan and was amazed to see how well everything is going there, including having five female managers (out of 15 total) and a plan to establish and build over 60 new schools this year.
(This article has been adapted from a longer message sent out by Greg Mortenson via email to friends and supporters. It is being published after receiving Mr Mortenson’s permission).
Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2011.
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