April 18, 2012

Author now faces civil suit over 'Three Cups of Tea'

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

An undated photo of Greg Mortenson, founder of the Central Asia Institute.


A First Amendment expert called the lawsuit absurd, regardless of whether the books contain fabrications.

Mortenson did not defame or harm anyone in his books and, barring narrow exceptions like national secrets, he can write what he wants and does not have to justify it, said Wayne Giampietro, a Chicago attorney and general counsel of the First Amendment Lawyers Association.

"It is what it is: Here's a book. If you want to buy it, buy it. If you don't, don't," Giampietro said.

The defendants' lawyers said such a case, if it were allowed to proceed, would damage the publishing industry and dampen free speech because it would require prohibitively expensive fact-checking for every book published.

In the case of Mortenson's memoir, it would be virtually impossible to independently verify all of his experiences in Central Asia, especially with several people cited who are now dead, Relin attorney Sonia Montalbano said. His story hasn't injured anyone, so there is no need to, she said.

"No one can be damaged by someone telling his own life story," she said.

After the "60 Minutes" and Krakauer reports last year, Penguin promised an internal investigation into the allegation that portions of the books were fabricated. Blewett referenced that investigation Wednesday. Herman declined to provide any updates, either during or after the hearing.

"The publisher knows only what the author has told it. That's it," Herman said.

One of the lawyers in the case is Larry Drury, who also represented plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against James Frey, who admitted on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" that he lied in his memoir "A Million Little Pieces." That lawsuit ended in a settlement that offered refunds to buyers of the book.

Drury and Blewett say the Mortenson and Frey cases "are stunningly close," but Haddon said he would not consider that case in these proceedings because it was settled without addressing any of the issues before him now.

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