Looking out at the stage of the Harris Theater in Chicago last week, I watched two old friends sit across from one another and banter about old times, all the while promoting a book — and a person.

Hillary Clinton, possible presidential contender, former U.S. Secretary of State, was on a two-day visit in Chicago and sitting across from her was Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who served in her husband’s White House and in President Obama’s.

The publicity event was as much for her new memoir, “Hard Choices,” as it was for Clinton herself as she weighs her presidential aspirations.

The forum, however, couldn’t have been more sanitized.

The place was packed with roughly 1,500 people who paid $50 for entry (each ticket came with a free signed copy of her book!) and then watched Emanuel lob softballs at Clinton.

The press wasn’t allowed anywhere near the candidate.

We were staged at a blurry distance, unable to follow up, to challenge, to even shout out a query.

No questions for Clinton. Just plug the book – and the candidate.

 

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Want to know more? Read the book. Watch the one-on-one ABC News interview or listen to NPR’s Terry Gross labor to pin down Clinton on how her opinion of same-sex marriage has evolved. 

“You know I really, I have to say, I think you’re being very persistent, but you are playing with my words and playing with what is such an important issue,” Clinton said to Gross, who refused to move on to the next topic before getting a straight answer from Clinton. Gross said she was trying to clarify Clinton’s position. “No, I don’t think you are trying to clarify,” Clinton snapped back. “I think you are trying to say that I used to be opposed and now I am in favor and I did it for political reasons. And that’s just flat wrong. So let me just state what I feel like I think you are implying and repudiate it.” 

Or she could have just answered the question in the first place.

Just weeks ago, former Vice President Dick Cheney landed in Chicago promoting the book by his wife, Lynne Cheney, about President James Madison.

Media was invited, then specifically told at the close of the event that the book publisher invited the press on the condition that the former Vice President not answer any questions.

Cheney walked inches from reporters without so much as looking in our direction. 

Lynne Cheney had just made headlines a week prior on Fox News, offering up a conspiracy theory that the Clintons had orchestrated a Vanity Fair cover of Monica Lewinsky as “an effort on the Clintons’ part to get that story out of the way,” before Hillary Clinton makes a run for president. She had no interest in answering follow-up questions to that in her Chicago visit. We were asked to watch Cheney interview his wife.

This isn’t just Clinton or Cheney. This is the new normal. It is in the mold of President Obama, which is a method many reporters covering City Hall complain Mayor Rahm Emanuel brought with him to Chicago from Washington. 

We’re expected to show up, listen to whatever the official wants to say, then shut up and write about it.

With some officials and some candidates, opportunities to challenge, to ask questions, are increasingly rare. It’s a constant battle for reporters to break through canned language. 

The media could always refuse to attend. But Clinton’s tales of her four years as Secretary of State do have news value.

From a personal standpoint, it was worth seeing the 2014 Hillary Clinton, who has evolved so much as a public speaker since her husband first ran for president in 1992. On stage last week, she laughed easily, exuded warmth and had the audience rolling on a couple of occasions.

Of course, that all can happen when you control your environment.

With the Cheney instance, there were truly so few scraps that most news operations in town took a pass on running anything. Even the questions from the audience were heavily stage managed: What surprised her the most in her research about Madison?

Seriously?

Former New York Times Editor Executive Editor Jill Abramson once said the Obama White House was “the most secretive White House that I’ve ever been involved in covering.”

A recent Politico survey of White House correspondents showed that 42 percent of the reporters who covered Obama day in and day out agreed with Abramson’s statement. Also from that survey, 41 percent said they believed the George W. Bush White House was more forthcoming with information to reporters than Obama’s. Another 41 percent said they weren’t sure.

So would a Hillary Clinton White House operate in the same way?

Would love the chance to ask.