William “Bill” Plante, one of the longest-serving White House television reporters in history, died of respiratory failure on Wednesday, according to his family. The award-winning CBS correspondent was 84 years old and living in Washington, DC
Plante retired from CBS News as chief White House correspondent in 2016 after 52 years with the news division. He toured Vietnam four times, reporting award-winning on the fall of Saigon and Cambodia, covered the civil rights movement, every presidential election from 1968 to 2016, and anchored the “CBS Sunday Night News” from 1988 to 1995.
“He was brilliant, as a reporter and as a human being,” said 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl, who covered the White House with Plante for 10 years. “There was nothing Bill didn’t excel at in our profession: he was a talented writer, a first-rate deadline maker and a major story breaker. He will be remembered for his reporting from the White House lawn, his booming voice that the presidents always answered and his kind heart.
Plante was a White House correspondent for CBS News for 35 years during the administrations of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama and covered the State Department during the George HW Bush administration. He was known for his baritone voice, which he used to launch questions from afar.
During a long period in which there were few White House news conferences, a frustrated Plante yelled at George W. Bush about his unavailability.
When the president announced the resignation of his adviser, Karl Rove, in 2007, and began to walk away without answering questions, Plante loudly shouted, “If he’s so smart, how come he lost Congress?”
“Our questions should not depend on what the White House thinks the mood or tone of an event should be,” Plante said of the incident at the time. “And the fact that they say ‘no questions’ or that they don’t allow time for questions really has nothing to do with it. They don’t have to answer, but I think we need to aggressively preserve and push our right to ask.” ”
When he wasn’t covering the White House, Plante used to talk about fine wine. He was known as one of Washington’s most knowledgeable wine aficionados, whose prodigious collection was considered one of the best in the nation’s capital. Plante soon became known as the White House press corps sommelier. He occasionally reported on wine for “CBS Early Show” and “CBS Sunday Morning.”
Plante reported on the Vietnam War on four separate tours in 1964, 1967, 1971-1972, and 1975, winning two awards for his work. He was one of four CBS News correspondents to win an Emmy Award in 1972 for a five-part series broadcast on “CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite” in December 1971. He also won an Overseas Press Club Award for “Best Radio SpotNews”. Reporting from Abroad” as part of the CBS News team covering the fall of Vietnam and Cambodia.
Plante joined CBS News in New York as an assignment reporter/editor in June 1964. He covered the civil rights movement and interviewed Dr. Martin Luther King at his historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1965.
On the 50th anniversary of the march, Obama said that Plante, “who covered the marches back then and is with us here today, joked that the growing number of white people diminished the quality of the singing. However, for those who marched on, those old gospel songs must never have sounded so sweet.”
Plante told CBS News in 2015 that the mood at the march was “joyful.”
“I think we knew at the time that it was pretty historic, given Alabama’s reputation and civil rights,” Plante said.
Plante was named a CBS News correspondent in 1966 and assigned to the Chicago bureau, where he remained for 10 years, covering such stories as the 1966 Chicago riots, the Ohio University campus riots, the United Auto Workers strike. in 1970 and the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa in 1975. His three-part investigation of the US-Soviet wheat deal in 1972 on “The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite” earned him an Emmy Award.
He also traveled abroad a lot in that period. He covered the funeral of Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser in 1970, a story for which he and other correspondents won an Overseas Press Club award for radio news. The following year, he covered the brief India-Pakistan war over Bangladesh, for which he won another Overseas Press Club radio spot award. He also reported on the conflict in Northern Ireland in 1972.
He began his political journalism in 1968, reporting on the California Primary, the Republican National Convention, and the presidential campaigns of Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon.
Plante joined the CBS News Washington bureau in December 1976. He was named chief White House correspondent in 1986, and in 1988, he was selected to anchor the “CBS Sunday Night News,” a role he held until 1995.
Other awards include Emmys for his television reporting on Princess Diana’s death in 1997, the 1986 Reagan-Gorbachev summit, and Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign.
William Madden Plante was born in Chicago on January 14, 1938. He began his broadcasting career in 1956 on Chicago-area radio stations, reading news and broadcasting classical music while attending local college at Loyola University. After graduating in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in humanities, he got a job as an assistant news director at WISN-TV, a CBS affiliate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He worked in news and weather, as well as assigning stories until 1963, when he was chosen for a CBS fellowship at Columbia University in New York, where he chose to study political science during his one-year term.
Plante predeceased his first wife, Barbara Barnes Plante, and a son, Patrick. He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Robin Smith, the award-winning documentary producer; three brothers, Richard, Jim and John; sons Michael, Dan, Christopher, Brian and David. He is also survived by eight grandchildren and one great-grandson.