Forrest Sawyer discusses politics, environment during Aspen visit |

Forrest Sawyer discusses politics, environment during Aspen visit

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

If the next presidential election were held today, Hillary Clinton would “stomp whoever ran against her,” former major-network news anchor and correspondent Forrest Sawyer said in Aspen on Sunday.

The former first lady and U.S. senator has not announced whether she will seek the Democratic Party nomination in 2016. But Clinton, Sawyer said, is the only potential candidate who has both star power and a solid organization on which to rely in the event that she should choose to run. At this point, more than two years before the election, the GOP has neither, he said.

Sawyer’s self-described “quick political analysis” was a response to a question as to whether Americans are ready for a woman president. He was speaking during the opening-day luncheon of the four-day American Renewable Energy Day event at the Hotel Jerome.

“She crushes Florida; she crushes Colorado; she’s by far the leading candidate,” said Sawyer, 65, who acknowledged that there is a lot of time for other potential candidates to impress voters before the November 2016 election.

“Right now, it’s hard to imagine anybody on the Republican side that will be able to lead a ticket like Hillary Clinton can lead a ticket,” said Sawyer, who was a frequent substitute host of ABC’s “World News Tonight” and “Nightline” in the 1990s.

“Hillary Clinton plays with a lot of folks on both sides of the aisle, and a lot of Republican women are going to switch over and vote for her,” he said.

The scheduled luncheon topic related to the media and their approach to reporting on climate change, but Sawyer’s discussion with moderator Chip Comins, chairman of the American Renewable Energy Institute, which organizes ARE Day, touched on a number of topics. Sally Ranney, the organization’s president, also was a panelist.

It was mentioned that the media do a disservice in attempting to bring balance to coverage of the climate-change issue. Climate change is a reality, recognized by scientists worldwide, but by giving airtime and print space to the small but well-funded minority of naysayers, the media confuse the public by presenting it as something that might be open to debate, the panelists said.

With regard to public perception, Sawyer — who has worked for CBS, ABC and NBC over the course of his long broadcasting career — noted that often “things happen very quickly” on other political issues, and it might turn around one day with regard to climate change.

“Look what happened with LGBT. Look how quickly (gay rights) was transformed around this country,” he said. “Look what happened with the Green Dragon right here in Aspen. Green Dragon, by the way, is a pot shop. (The marijuana debate) has changed very quickly, and we need to go into the prisons and get some of those people who were put away for smoking pot out of there.”

On other topics, Sawyer provided the following perspectives:

• On Congress and its popularity: “If you look at any of the polls right now, Americans are just downright steamed. Cockroaches have a better (poll number) than Congress. Ebola is doing better than Congress.”

• On the Supreme Court’s decision that resulted in George W. Bush’s victory over Al Gore in 2000: “Five (Supreme Court) justices elected the president. I think that was a terrible mistake, … and I think they have continued to make very strange decisions.”

• About attitudes on climate change: Sawyer made an analogy about octopus traps. An octopus crawls around the trap, fishermen raise the trap out of the ocean and the octopus has a choice to make: to retreat into a clay pot or escape. “We (as humans) are retreating into our clay pots (regarding climate change),” he said.

• About the declining role of network news and the rise of the Internet information age: Sawyer asked the crowd if they knew that Diane Sawyer is retiring, and only a few people raised their hands. “With the rose-colored glasses of age, we look back and say, ‘We really did wonderful stuff.’ But I don’t know how great we were. We were generalists, and we were doing our best, and we were trying to do stories that were unafraid. Especially ‘Nightline.’ But I think we got a lot of things wrong because we didn’t have enough information.”

• On the state of America’s democracy: “We have the best government that money can buy, … which proves that money doesn’t buy much.”