I'm disappointed that he ignored the entire Mars Direct (Dr. Zubrin) component of my question, and instead only responded peripherally to the core component of the question.
Just because he didn't say what you wanted to hear doesn't mean he didn't answer your question. He did answer your question - with the cold sober truth. He correctly identified the bits that matter, and the bits that are handwaving window dressing and addressed the former while ignoring the latter.
Zubrin's plans are... more than a little optimistic. (In particular he doesn't have a firm grasp on the difference between speculative laboratory proof-of-concept experiments and actual developed technology. His plan relies heavily on treating the former as the latter.) Musk? Musk is irrelevant. Musk is playing to the fanboy crowd, but don't look behind the curtain. There's nothing there but a pile of powerpoints and someday, maybe's.
I think Dr. Stone's Mars response is a great example of everything that's wrong with NASA. There's no leadership at NASA, and NASA is adrift (in the same manner Dr. Stone is afraid a manned mission to Mars would become adrift), and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.
I think you represent what's wrong with space fandom, geekdom, and advocacy today.
In the first place, you completely fail to grasp that it is not NASA's role to provide leadership - they're a part of the Executive Branch, and their job is to carry out the policies of the Administration within the bounds of the budget as set by Congress. No more, no less. If NASA had it's way, we might have landed on the Moon by the Bicentennial. Or maybe not. Their plans were vague at best. Then Kennedy was killed in Dallas, and LBJ pushed the moon program as a monument to Kennedy. Which momentum didn't last all that long... by '66/'67 Congress was swinging the budget axe, and by '69 the program was running mostly on fumes and force of habit. (which is something else fandom, geekdom, and advocacy have failed to grasp for nearly a half century - just how unique the alignment of circumstances was that propelled Apollo and just how short lived support actually was.)
Second, in that you name check... but you complete fail to grasp the meaning of Dr Stone's answer - Mars is going to be very hard, and it's not visionaries and buzzwords that will get us there. It's technology, technology we don't have but are (as Dr Stone says) working on figuring out. By the time we can send men there, the probes will have done the advance scout work and identified the places and areas of research where men can make the real difference.