Archive for May, 2011

Mortenson Scandal

Three Cups of Tea, the book detailing Greg Mortenson’s happenstance decent into the world of charity and philanthropy, has sold over four million copies. As required reading for U.S. soldiers on their way to Afghanistan, and for plenty students in high school and college, its message about the importance of education in remote areas has made its way into many brains. Unlike many politicians and celebrities, the portrait of Mortenson presented in the book seems remarkably innocent, absent— or even naively unaware – of the egotism and greed evident in many public figures.

Therefore, the U.S. evening news show 60 Minutes surprised viewers when it produced an expose of sorts that associated Mortenson with a kind of greed and dishonesty unheard of in his books. Comments on the 60 Minutes website call the story a “bloody witch hunt” and a “shame,” suggesting that they “find a story or an organization worthy of criticism.” However, as a national news organization, it’s only expected that 60 Minutes sets out to discover the truth, especially in response to “complaints from former donors, board members, staffers, and charity watchdogs about Mortenson and the way he is running his non-profit organization.” What is surprising, however, is the ease with which Steve Kroft and the 60 Minutes team dramatized the story, presenting it as an outrage.

Upon first watch, the story reads like a scandal. And most viewers don’t watch more than once. The story, framed as a sassy response to an immensely popular book, man and institute presents itself as being above balance; it operates on the assumption that it gives balance to a scale already tilted in Mortenson’s favor. However, this assumption leads to a journalistically unsound piece. While the package documents several unsuccessful attempts to speak with Mortenson, it also excludes any comments that fans and co-workers might have been willing to make in Mortenson’s favor. But oddly enough, the LA Times, New York Times, BBC and ABC were able to procure quotes refuting 60 Minutes’ claims for stories in response to the piece. Let us review the claims in a less dramatized, more thorough manner.

The sensationalism begins with a bold claim from Jon Krakauer, author and $75,000 donor to Mortenson’s cause. “It’s a beautiful story, and it’s a lie,” he declares vehemently after a summary of Mortenson’s supposed tale. This allegation is solidified by claims from Mortenson’s porters that he never, in fact, stumbled into the village where he claims his aspirations all began. It is not solidified, however, by the segment’s footage of Krakauer scouring piles of books and papers as though completing very detailed research on Mortenson’s story—at least factually. Early on, the segment’s feigned candidness reveals its attempt to visually lure the reader into a state of belief.

But did Mortenson lie? In a rebuttal on abcnews.com, he points out that the stories he recalled for his book Three Cups of Tea took place more than 18 years ago—long enough to get some details mixed up. However, some disputed facts are clearly not the product of a faulty memory, like the difference between the three schools that Krakauer claims Mortenson built in Kunar Province, and the eleven schools Mortenson told Charlie Rose about. In addition, Krakauer claims that many of the schools Mortenson built are either non-existent or not operative. But is the failure of a school to function once Mortenson leaves his fault? The video refuses to take those questions into account, simply building the sensationalism with footage of a building that is less-than-impressive by the standards of its primarily western viewership.  A BBC response story presents a more neutral perspective. While they claim that many schools Mortenson takes credit for were actually built by NATO’s Provincial Reconstruction Teams or the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, they also quote a CAI director in Afghanistan who is “ready to take any member of the press so that they can see [the CAI’s schools] for themselves.”

In an interview with an ABC correspondent, Mortenson speaks proudly of a village that built its own school when he and his people with the CAI couldn’t get to them. And later, he refers to the statistic that before his organization’s work, only 800 thousand children were in school in the Middle East, while now 9 million children are. Mortenson does not, however, make any direct claims that the CAI directly spurred this increase. But he’s still proud of it. Here, he demonstrates that even when another organization or group builds a school, he not only rejoices, but feels some sort of association—a “we’re-all-in-this-together” mentality. While this by no means serves as justifications for any embellishment or tall tales, it may help to explain the perceived half-truths that Mortenson has declared in regards to his school building.

Furthermore, this mentality might serve as a valid retort to another accusation brought against Mortenson—that he uses more money to speak in American than to build schools in underdeveloped nations. At first, this may indeed seem counterintuitive. But as an obviously devoted proponent of education, Mortenson understands the values of constructive, norm-building techniques. In an article on the website Real Clear Politics, former United States Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Jed Babbin claims that the war against terrorism “is, at its core, an ideological war.” As important as educating children in Pakistan and Afghanistan might be, educating Americans—those with power and money—is equally important in the war on terror. While this tactic rings impotent in the ears of realist politicians, it is both valid and effective from a constructivist norm-valuing perspective.

Krakauer also attacks Mortenson’s money management and organization skills. He claims that multiple people left the organization because “in so many words… Greg uses Central Asia Institute as his private ATM machine.” Kroft seems to goad these statements out of him, asking loaded and opinionated questions like “Do you think contributors are being misled?” on camera. A message board response to these accusations features a statement from Andrew Marcus, former board member of the Central Asia Institute, who claims that “the reason they resigned was because of discussions of the future, more philosophical differences.” To a viewer who has only heard of the book, Mortenson’s lack of management may come as a shock. But to anyone who has read Mortenson’s book, the fact that he is not especially well-versed in the field of running a whole organization does not qualify as news. Repeated references to inexperience, poor time-management skills, and the overwhelming nature of running a whole organization litter Three Cups of Tea, lending it a sense of modesty and truthfulness not new to anyone familiar with Mortenson.

But despite poor management skills, Mortenson at least possesses the ambition to not give up. Even when raising enough money or coordinating his duties in Pakistan with the duties of parenthood seem impossible, he works to complete both—something more than most can say. But 60 Minutes tries to portray this ambition as malignance, suggesting that Mortenson misspent pennies donated by “thousands of school children who emptied their piggy-banks.” Slow-motion footage of innocent-faced children dropping pennies accompanies this loaded language, again showcasing the producers’ desire to capitalize upon the element of scandal.

Another claim made against Mortenson accuses him of fabricating a story about being held captive. An interview with Mansur Khan Mahsud, pictured as a captor in the book, reveals that he in fact claims to have served as Mortenson’s protector. Whether his claims are valid, and whether this is a case of a fabricated story or simply a poorly captioned photo remains unclear.  However, question over who provided and captioned the photo raises another key question that 60 Minutes conveniently forgets to ask: what about the book’s co-author? Even ABC’s piece documenting Mortenson’s response leaves mention of co-author David Oliver Relin to the very end. As a self-identified journalist, doesn’t Relin hold any responsibility for faulty facts? What of his duty to verify information before publishing? Rather than focus on the factual realities of the book’s publication, the 60 Minutes piece only reports on the tidbits worthy of exaggeration and melodrama.

It seems that most of what Kroft and his team turned up does not weigh too heavily upon the validity of the CAI’s mission. By no means should Mortenson be excused from distorting the truth. But the nature of this segment reveals more shocking truths about human nature than about Mortenson.

Theatrics sell. Just as 60 Minutes—and plenty of other news sources—plays up the drama, conflict and scandal in any news story, Mortenson seems to have played up the human interest traits of his story. Ironically, the piece that calls him out for attempting to draw readers in makes use of many of the same truth-distorting, viewer-guaranteeing tactics. Western society loves suspense, heartbreak, betrayal, and lies—and a non-fiction setting renders these characteristics all the more appealing. If Mortenson did in fact lie to sell books, society should question itself as well as him; why do we require embellishment to act on behalf of such a charitable cause? And before expecting an answer to this question from our media, we should look for it first and foremost in ourselves.

Works Cited:

“Questions over Greg Mortenson’s stories.” 60 Minutes. 15 April 2011. Web.

Babbin, Jed. “Fighting the ideological war.” Real Clear Politics 6 March 2006. Web.

Kellogg, Carolyn. “Greg Mortenson responds to ’60 Minutes’ questions about his ‘Three Cups of Tea’ story.” April 2011. Los Angeles Times. Web.

Khan, M Ilyas and Bilal Sarwary. “Three Cups of Tea: The Pakistan and Afghan side.” BBC. April 2011. Web.

Dolak, Kevin and Dean Schabner. “’Three Cups of Tea’ Author Denies ’60 Minutes’ Claims.” ABC News. 17 April 2011.

Twitter gained breaking news on Osama bin Laden death in Pakistan

Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, Storify all different types of social media vas the media channel for the breaking news of Osama bin Laden death to thousands citizens around the world. Not only in the USA, but also across the globe, the historic news came through the social media platforms.

It was Twitter, not traditional media, that broke the news of Osama bin Laden’s death – is the article title of Eric Degans from St. Petersburg Times. The power of twitter was that every detail, from “9:47 p.m. announcement that President Barack Obama would speak to the nation, to confirmation from a CBS News producer at 10:32 p.m. that Bin Laden was dead and his body as in U.S. custody, happened first on Twitter”, wrote Degans.

The breaking news delivered via social media underline the question – whether Twitter’s role was above that on the traditional media, especially cable broadcasters. What really happen?

“Text message, email and alerts from Twitter and Facebook, in many instances before the details had been reported by the cable television networks”, reported Cory Dade in NPR article On social media, American react to bin laden death. “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1 AM ( is a rare event) was the tweet of Shohaib Athar, who blogged the Osama raid without knowing it.

One of the twits of Athar was: Bin Laden is dead. I didn’t kill him – Let me sleep now.

The annoying sound of the helicopters under his house was the first sign to tweet on the breaking news and without knowing on its importance. As the news went around the world, the number of Athar followers rise up to 14,000.

There is no doubt – a new media revolution is coming with the social media, especially in the part of the breaking news and supporting the broadcast content to deliver key messages. Facebook and Twitter brought last and this year many important breaking news from the rescue of Chilean miners, revolutions in Egypt and other African countries to the breaking news of 2011 – death of Osama bin Laden.

A Mighty Heart movie review

Stevo Pendarovski my Pen – Pal from University American College from Skopje has been skeptical about “the movie industry’s potentials to portray realistically event in the war-torn countries, simply because no movie has ever come close to life”.  He explains that “numerous articles have been written on the contradiction between the organizational cultures of military and journalism, sharpening in the times of crises”.

But, the look upon the third element, very potent on the battlefield – mentality of terrorists is often absent from the analytical triangle.  “My basic point of departure is that regardless of the known differences between the soldiers and journalists, their symbiosis is necessary for confronting the common opponent”, said Pendarovski.  According to him, “embedded journalism is a must for uncovering the truth in the war zones and for up-close and personal human stories, as well”.

Although, “for investigative journalist to be “embedded” in the hostile terrorist environment it certainly asks for securing back-up from military intelligence whose core is fundamentally different, but not hostile to journalists”.

Pendarovski believes “it is very difficult to imagine successful penetration of journalists up to the inner terrorist circles without overt/covert support by the intelligence agencies. In my view, the operational key is providing alignment by the so-called friendly services because they have the ownership over the processes on the local level”. Unfortunately, “loyalty to their ethic kin is often stronger then achieving strategic goals for their country or reaching out to liberty and democracy”, comments Pendarovski on the topic of the movie A Mighty Heart.

Despite the promises of the USA President Barack Obama to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center on Cuba on March this year, he signed new executive order to continue with the military trials at the Navy base. Number of detainees currently held in Guantanamo is 172, according the 28 February, 2011 fact sheet Guantanamo by numbers of the nonprofit organization Human Right First that works on implementation and promotion on universal human rights and freedoms.

Khalid Sheikh Mohhamed is a Kuwaiti in the USA custody in Guantanamo for alleged acts of terrorism, mass murder of civilians and he is among 172 prisoners of Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. After his imprisonment at Guantanamo, Khalid Sheikh Mohhamed confessed that he organized and beheaded the Wall Street Journal, reporter Daniel Pearl in January 2002, Miami Herald published on their on line page Associated Press article Report faults Pakistan’s Pearl murder investigation by Ashraf Khan and Nahal Toosi.

They wrote that “he is held at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. military prison, and the confession is believed to have come during interrogation that included waterboarding”.  AP article posted on January 20, 2011 in Miami Herald online page brought the findings and results of the Pearl Project that “four men imprisoned for killing Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl were not present during his beheading but were convicted of murder because Pakistani authorities knowingly relied on perjured testimony and ignored other leads”.

The investigative effort called Pearl Project is joint result of the commitment of his former colleague Asra Q. Nomani, students and professors from George Town University and Washington D.C. and the Center for Pubic Integrity. The genuine idea to combine professional and academic work on serous journalism investigation of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi in 2002 was modeled by the three decade ago old investigative reporting project into the murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles.

Nomani and Barbara Feiman Todd, the director of journalism at Georgetown University visited Phoenix in 2007 to attend annual conference of Investigative Reporters and Editors, the world’s largest association of investigative journalist and to copy from the Arizona project for Don Bolles. She recalls on the Web page of the project the conference was convenient because of the presence of Randall Bennet, formerly the regional security officer for the State Department at the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, was going to be stateside in Phoenix.

“Randall and I had gotten to know each other during the horrible weeks after Danny had been kipped. Randall was a compelling figure, straight out of central casting, the kind of guy who comes to mind when you hear words like “swagger,” and in fact, he had been portrayed in Hollywood’s version of Danny’s story. I wanted Barbara to meet him”, recalls Nomani.

In spite of the Hollywood emotional movie portraits of  the last days of Daniel Pearl in Pakistan before he was kidnapped – the investigative journalism in the Pearl Project discovers other elements important to what happened In Karachi with the former WSJ journalist and reporter.

The Pearl Project findings disclosure problems of criminal justice system in Pakistan and question, sometimes, the high level of trust that the USA officials have in Pakistan authorities. “From one isolated murder case”, Pearl’s friend and colleague, Nomani, admits the project grow up “to a study of various important issues”.

The truth left behind, inside the kidnaping and murder of Daniel Pearl Web page prepared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism brings key findings and continues the work on Pearl’s investigation in Pakistan before his kidnaping. Nomani gives the importance of the Pearl’s Project to “uncover and untangle militancy, Islamic extremism, and terrorism in Pakistan, with foreign policy implications much larger than we imagined when we first began”.

There is an important story in the case of Daniel Pearl investigative work in Pakistan. “Years later, Danny’s case offers important lessons to the Obama administration as it grapples with its policy toward Pakistan as a safe haven for Taliban, Al Qaeda, and militant fighters that U.S. forces face in the war in Afghanistan. Danny’s case was a harbinger of the issues U.S. national security officials are grappling to understand today”, emphasized Nomani.

Wall Street Journal online page dedicated to their former reporter and journalist kidnaped allegedly by the Al-Qaeda members in Pakistan gives the facts on the case. Daniel Pearl “ disappeared in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi on Jan. 23 after embarking for what he believed was an interview with a prominent figure in the country’s Islamic movement”.

After four days, a new group “The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistan Sovereignty” introduced the requirements “for release of Pakistani nationals being held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the wake of the military campaign in Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan being detained in the U.S. as terrorism suspects”.  The group that was not known of the USA authorities asked “for the U.S. to turn over F-16 fighter jets purchased by Pakistan in the late 1980s but never delivered because of U.S. sanctions related to Islamabad’s nuclear-weapons program”.

The death of relevant journalist from the influential newspaper, his Jewish origin, politics, terrorism, Guantanamo, Taliban’s, dysfunctional judicial system in Pakistan – enough intrigues for Hollywood. A Mighty Heart movie from 2007, directed by the English director Michael Winterbottom with Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman and Irfan Kan in a manner of speaking tell us on franatic search of Mariane Pearl, to locate his husband Daniel Pearl. Winterbottom drives the movie with the emotions and portraits the Wall Street reporter through the eyes of his wife and her book on Pearl dedicated to their children.

However, one of the closest associates to Pearl, Nomani wrote an article in the Washington Post on June 24, 2007 titled A Mighty Shame. “For me, watching the movie was like having people enter my home, rearrange the furniture and reprogram my memory. I’d known it was a gamble when I agreed to help with a Hollywood version of Danny’s kidnapping, but I’d done it because I thought the movie had the potential to be meaningful”, admits Nomani in the Washington Post article.

This article was the reason Nomani to receive a call in late June 2007 from Marian Crompley from the Oklahoma City based Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation with the offer to support financially the Pearl Project.

Couple of years latter, the findings of this investigative journalism project reveals “serious issues that have relevance today to U.S. policy and America’s war in Afghanistan: the emergence of a “Punjabi Taliban, made up of militants from the Pakistani province of Punjab; the role of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, as a safe haven for militants; and the nexus between the Pakistani militancy and Al Qaeda”.

Work Cited:

1.http://www.miamiherald.com/2007/11/27/322461/by-the-numbers.html

2. http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/01/20/2024799_p2/report-faults-daniel-pearl-murder.html#ixzz1K94rQM9M

3. A Mighty Shame. (2007, June 24). In The Washington Post. Retrieved April 20, 2011,fromhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2007/06/22/AR2007062201673.html

4. MORE ON DANIEL PEARL Read the prepared statement from Wall Street Journal Publisher Peter Kann and Managing Editor Paul Steiger. • Read a chro. (2002, February 24). In The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 20, 2011, from http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/pearl-022102.htm

5. The truth left behind. (n.d.). In The Pearl Project. Retrieved April 20, 2011, from http://treesaver.publicintegrity.org/daniel_pearl

6. The Pearl Project. (n.d.). In The Pearl Project George Town University. Retrieved April 20, 2011, from http://pearlproject.georgetown.edu/index.html

Return top

Terrorism and the Press

This blog is an integral part of a special section of Honors 394 Spring 2010, Arizona State University. Rather than a routine history course this dynamic, interactive seminar explores the interplay between terrorism and television, and other media sources on-line and in print. 26 students and their global pen pals comprise the bloggers. We welcome all to share their opinions, pertinent observations, insights, comments, feedback. Please post in a responsible manner.