Aspen has got a hold of my brain! First it was the Fortune Brainstorm, then I was back in town taking part in the Aspen Ideas Festival, which just ended. My mind runneth over. Here are some takeaways from my time there:
In between panels, I ran into Colin Powell and asked him if we are ever going to get out of Iraq. "We are," he told me, "but we're not going to leave behind anything we like because we are in the middle of a civil war." Powell and Jack Murtha both talking about civil war in Iraq -- shouldn't that be headline news?
The week featured panels that ran the topical gamut -- touching on everything from TV to Terrorism to Spiritual Transformation. But the overarching theme was a multilayered discussion of all things media -- from looks at the Old Media ("The Future of the Printed Word") to examinations of the New Media ("Consuming the New Media").
As I was making the rounds of these media panels, there was one constant: at some point someone in the audience or on a panel would, without fail, raise the old canard about the supposed inaccuracy of the blogosphere. "We still need a place," some plaintive soul would inevitably say, "where we can go that we can count on for its accuracy." I would nod understandingly and say, Yes, someplace like the front page of the New York Times... or all the other homes to the tragic, above-the-fold inaccuracies reported by the MSM that misled us to war.
Some favorite moments:
Ben Bradlee at a panel discussion on the media asking for a moratorium on all predictions on the death of print, insisting with all the authority of Gutenberg himself: It's not gonna happen.
A conversation that saw Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute, interviewing outgoing CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer and his replacement, Katie Couric. The knockout line of the night came from Couric who, when asked about her famous on-air colonoscopy, smiled that $15 million smile and promised that for her new job she'd up the ante and get an on-air pap smear.
During a panel on "Television, Cinema, and American Values," Nora Ephron confessed that she once dated Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who was at the Festival taking part in a panel on "Independence of the Judiciary." She said that on Wednesday night, they had watched the terrific new Sydney Pollack documentary on Frank Gehry that was screened at the Festival and Breyer told her he was worried about Gehry and she responded that she is worried about the Supreme Court. Her take: Our culture is in much better hands than our politics.
During a panel on civility, former Senator Alan Simpson, sitting next me, apologized for having been uncivil to me via satellite during a joint TV appearance years ago. I civilly accepted his contrition rather than uncivilly admitting that I didn't remember the incident in question. Perhaps because uncivil exchanges have become the lingua franca of those kinds of TV appearances.
And during the panel entitled "Are We Ready for a Woman in the White House?", Sen. Susan Collins said she felt the country was indeed ready but admitted, "I got my clock cleaned when I ran for governor of Maine but easily won election to the Senate. Twice." So, in her experience, voters were more accepting of a woman in the legislature than as a chief executive. A harbinger for Hillary? Sally Quinn agreed that the country was ready -- provided the female candidate did not exude even a hint of sex appeal.
Then there was Alan Greenspan. During a discussion on "Oil and Gas: The Next 50 Years," the former Fed head said he believes the energy future will belong to cellulosic ethanol, made from switchgrass, and plug-in hybrid vehicles. He said while many people think this is nonsense, he thinks it's inevitable -- and would happen "when gas gets to 'X' dollars a gallon." But he wouldn't say what 'X' was.
In the roundtable discussion on "Consuming the New Media" that I took part in, Peter Beinart predicted that, in the future, the greatest luxury will be being disconnected from all the new technologies, freed to think new thoughts and come up with new ideas. So perhaps the most important idea to come out of this Ideas Festival, where everybody was walking around in-between sessions talking on cell phones or tapping away on BlackBerrys (or listening to iPods on hikes), was the thought that future bliss will be dependent on figuring out how to put the bloody things down.
After Beinart spoke, Charlie Firestone, the moderator of the "Consuming the New Media" panel, turned to the audience and asked Michael York, who had earlier given a presentation on Shakespeare, if the actor could think of any insights Shakespeare might be able to lend to the discussion. York, always ready, said yes and quoted Hamlet's final words: "The rest is silence." Leave it to the Bard to deliver the perfect topper.