On his first visit to Oregon as the new Democratic Party leader, Howard Dean requested a media blackout of a debate with Bush administration advisor Richard Perle before Dean quickly changed his mind after reporters called to complain.
Gabrielle Williams, the local coordinator of the event, sent an e-mail to news agencies Wednesday morning – less than 24 hours before the debate – stating: "DNC Chair Howard Dean has declared a news blackout of his appearance and requested the media not quote, record, and/or paraphrase his remarks."
"We apologize for the late notice, but we were just informed of this request," Williams said.
Less than two hours later, Williams called The Associated Press to say: "We were told just a few minutes ago that it is now open."
Dean, the former Vermont governor and a presidential candidate last year, was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee last Saturday.
Perle was an assistant defense secretary for former President Reagan and served as chairman of the Defense Department’s policy board in the current Bush administration.
Dean’s spokeswoman, Laura Gross, confirmed that the event was going to be closed at the request of Dean and his staff.
"Some speeches are open, some speeches are closed. He decided months ago that this speech would be closed. We’re in transition. Now he’s the DNC chair – and so we needed to have this changed," she said.
Perle, who will debate Dean in Portland Thursday night, said he was surprised to find out that the event was going to be closed to the press.
"I just learned about it when I made an inquiry about a documentary crew that wanted to cover the debate – and word came back that, no, they can’t because Dean has some commitment not to let the media appear," said Perle, now with the American Enterprise Institute.
"I don’t understand it. It seems quite extraordinary that the chairman of the Democratic National Committee would not want the public coverage of this debate," Perle said.
The debate is part of the 23rd annual forum held by Pacific University to honor Tom McCall, a former Republican governor of Oregon.
The request to close the event to the press came as a surprise to some of the sponsors, including Willamette Week.
"I didn’t know anything about a blackout," said Richard Meeker, publisher of Willamette Week. He noted that McCall had been a journalist before he entered politics, and had supported a statewide open meetings law in the early 1970s.
Dean has been represented by the Harry Walker Agency for appearances since his unsuccessful bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination last year.
Don Walker, president of the agency, said that many of its events are closed to the press. It’s up to the individual speaker to decide whether he or she wants it to be open. "We default to a closed press policy," Walker said