Regardless of whether accusations are true that author Greg Mortenson fabricated portions of "Three Cups of Tea," neither he nor his publisher can be held liable because the First Amendment protects exaggerations or lies in memoirs, his publisher's attorney said Wednesday.
Penguin Group (USA) attorney Jonathan Herman and attorneys for Mortenson, co-author David Oliver Relin and Mortenson's charity, the Central Asia Institute, asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by four people who bought Mortenson's best-selling books.
The lawsuit was filed after "60 Minutes" and author Jon Krakauer published reports last year that Mortenson fabricated parts of "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones Into Schools," which recount his efforts to build schools in Central Asia.
The lawsuit contends that Mortenson and the others committed fraud and deceit and were involved in a racketeering conspiracy in publishing lies.
Mortenson headed the conspiracy to set himself up as a false hero so that he could sell millions of books and raise tens of millions of dollars for his charity, plaintiffs' attorney Zander Blewett said.
"Mortenson obviously is the main, main liar," he said. "He has just drafted himself a web of deception and used it to raise $62 million."
Herman said the proper place for someone to object to the books is in the sphere of public debate, not in a courtroom to be prosecuted by self-appointed "truth police."
"The First Amendment permits someone who writes an autobiography to exaggerate or even lie," Herman said.
U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon did not make an immediate ruling, saying he wanted to consider the arguments further.
"Three Cups of Tea," which has sold about 4 million copies since being published in 2006, was conceived as a way to raise money and tell the story of his institute, founded by Mortenson in 1996.