David Relin: Author accused of fabrication


David Relin was a journalist who co-wrote the acclaimed 2006 bestseller Three Cups of Tea, but was later accused of the fabrication and embellishment of events in order to promote the book. Relin, who had a history of depression, committed suicide.

In August 2011, Relin's lawyer said that the litigation "had had a negative impact on his livelihood as an author," adding that as he had no personal insurance he was also funding his own defence. Relin had been hurt "emotionally and financially" by the allegations and said he stood by the book.

Relin, a veteran journalist who had reported extensively from Asia and Vietnam in particular, gained notoriety after working with Greg Mortenson on Three Cups of Tea. The book, which has sold about 4m copies and spent four years on the New York Times bestseller list, chronicles Mortenson's failed attempt in 1993 to climb the world's second-highest mountain, K2 in Pakistan, and his encounter with impoverished Pakistani villagers.

He credited them with inspiring him to build schools in the regionand become involved in other regional humanitarian projects. It describes how Mortenson was inspired to take action after he became lost and dehydrated and was nursed back to health by villagers. Relin "understood the potential importance of the story – that it could show that building schools was an antidote to just dropping bombs on that part of the world," said the author Lee Kravitz, who introduced Relin to Mortenson. The book was conceived as a way to tell Mortenson's story and raise money for his Central Asia Institute, which he co-founded in 1996 to build schools in the area.

Relin interviewed Mortenson on numerous occasions, as well as attending his lectures and reading past articles, before submitting a book proposal to the Penguin Group. Accepted, he interviewed and researched further before writing the manuscript.

The credibility of the book, however, came under scrutiny in April 2011, when the CBS news programme 60 Minutes aired an exposé and, along with bestselling mountaineer and author Jon Krakauer, who produced an e-book called Three Cups of Deceit, accused Mortenson of numerous fabrications, including his abduction by the Taliban in 1996. They also claimed that he had mismanaged funds and used his charitable institute to promote sales of the memoir.

Mortenson denied any wrongdoing, though acknowledged some discrepancies in the book, the result of what he called "omissions and compressions" over different periods of time, all done in the name of literary license. In an interview with Outside magazine, he tried to deflect some of the blame, saying that Relin did "nearly all the writing" and that they collaborated to create "the narrative arc", adding that with recollections and memories, "sometimes things come out different ... I'm not a journalist. I don't take a lot of notes." He insisted that the events described did occur.

In his introduction to Three Cups of Tea, Relin had acknowledged potential inaccuracies and wrote that Mortenson's "fluid sense of time made pinning down the exact sequence of many events in this book almost impossible."

In April, a Montana federal judge rejected a lawsuit brought by four readers who had purchased the book, dismissing allegations that the authors, their publisher and the charity had conspired to turn Mortenson into a false hero to sell books and raise money for the charity.

However, in another investigation, not involving Relin, Mortenson was ordered to repay more than $1m in travel and other expenses to the Central Asia Institute, be removed from a position of financial oversight and told to expand the board.

There had been conflict between the two co-authors for some time, and this came to the fore in a 2008 interview with the University of Oregon literary journal Etude. Relin had objected to Mortenson being credited as co-author. He said that in addition to interviewing Mortenson extensively, he conducted more than 200 interviews with people tied to Mortenson's story and travelled three times to northern Pakistan. Relin said, "That's been the only negative thing about this whole adventure for me," adding, "it was published that way over my objections."

Born in Rochester, New York in 1962, David Oliver Relin graduated from Vassar College in 1985, and was later awarded a fellowship at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He built up and enjoyed a stellar career as a humanitarian journalist, producing and editing pieces about young people in need for America's biggest-selling magazine, Parade, for which he won over 40 awards. He also reported from East Asia, and spent two years writing about Vietnam's growing educational and financial stability, having received a University of Iowa fellowship in 1992 to spend a year travelling through the country by bicycle.

His second book, Second Suns: Two Doctors and Their Amazing Quest to Restore Sight and Save Lives, about two doctors working to cure cataract-related blindness in the developing world, is scheduled for publication by Random House in June 2013.

Relin is survived by his wife, Dawn, his mother and stepfather, Marjorie and Cary, and two sisters.

Martin Childs

David Relin, journalist and author: born Rochester, New York 12 December 1962; married Dawn; died Corbett, Oregon 15 November 2012.