Just a quick word about the recent '60 Minutes' story on Greg Mortenson, who wrote Three Cups of Tea.
First of all, I saw the '60 Minutes' piece, linked above. I have not read the book.
But as a guy who aspires to be a published writer, I wanted to throw some questions out there. As a public and media relations expert, I wanted to throw some cautions and some words of advice out there as well.
First the questions. My initial impression is that Mortenson is getting a vaguely bad rap. This is not a knock on Steve Kroft, the guy doing the interviewing for '60 Minutes' who ultimately runs down Mortenson at a book signing. He's doing his job, as are his producers. And I suspect they probably found real inaccuracies in the story.
But here's why I say "bad rap" -- if Mortenson has exaggerated some of the points of his book, or has twisted details around, but still delivers a valid point, isn't it still a story worth telling? Worth reading?
Look, I get it. The guy said he was captured by the Taliban for eight days. He apparently wasn't. He said he got lost on K2 and wandered into some village. That's questionable. But that's not really the meat of the story (as I understand it) -- it's the part about building schools.
Well, he's evidently on-record as exaggerating that as well.
You know, as a quick aside, this is one of the great things about David Sedaris. He's pretty open about his exaggerations. And it's one of the things I like to think I have in common with him (probably the only thing, as you'll see if you peruse this blog for long) -- it's not about re-telling a perfectly accurate recounting of history. It's about telling a really great story.
When you're reading the Clintonaut stories I post here, I hope you don't interpret them as historical fact. I'm exaggerating the hell out of a great deal of it. I mean, it happened. I worked in the Clinton Administration. But you think I was taking notes the whole time? You think I have detailed journals of my experiences?
I should. I don't. It doesn't mean I don't have great stories to tell.
Here's another question -- this one for '60 Minutes'. Mortenson isn't the only author listed on the book. There's this guy named David Oliver Relin with equal billing... and apparently the issue of who wrote what and what it means is not going well.
So, why didn't '60 Minutes' interview Relin? I understand that a large part of the story was the work Mortenson does for his charity, but the charity work was borne out of the book. I'd say '60 Minutes' had an obligation to interveiw Relin.
Or maybe they did. Did Relin not tell them what they wanted to hear, and his stuff is on the cutting room floor?
Why anyone does anything like this is the question guys like me get paid to ponder and all too rarely answer in a satisfactory way. Why do you lie when you don't have to?
There's no good answer, but it is human nature. It is who we are. The guy is trying to do a good thing. Every single American in uniform is required to read Three Cups of Tea, for God's sake. Mortenson is under a little bit of pressure, here, don't you think?
Look, Greg Mortenson won't ever read this blog, but you will. Here's some free advice for you. Don't run away when '60 Minutes' -- or any other press outfit -- comes calling. Stand your ground. They're not sharks. They're human, and they put on a show like they enjoy confrontation, but they're like the rest of us. They don't. Stare 'em down. Stick to the truth. If you don't know, say you don't know. Tell your side of the story, and if you get the impression Steve Kroft -- or whoever -- doesn't like it, say so. Steve, I can see that you and I don't agree, here, but I stand by my word. I fell off of K2, grew a red cape, built twenty-seven bazillion schools, married Angelina Jolie, and cured cancer all in one afternoon.
Okay, don't say that. But stand by your stuff. Canceling your speaking engagement and running out the back door doesn't do a thing for you.
Cross-posted at my blog for writing, Clintonaut.