- CBS News White House correspondent dies at 84
- Bill Plante was one of the longest serving White House broadcast journalists in history
William “Bill” Plante, one of the longest-serving White House broadcast journalists in the history is no more as the family says he died on Wednesday due to respiratory failure. The award-winning CBS correspondent was 84 years old and lived in Washington, D.C.
The veteran journalist retired from CBS News as a senior White House correspondent back in 2016 after 52 years with the news division. He served four tours in Vietnam – with award-winning reporting on the fall of Saigon and Cambodia – covering the civil rights movement, all the presidential elections from 1968 to 2016, and was the anchor of the “CBS Sunday Night News” from 1988 to 1995.
60-minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl said, “He was brilliant, as a reporter and as a human being,” who covered the White House with Plante for 10 years.
Stahl added, “There wasn’t anything Bill didn’t excel at in our profession: he was a gifted writer, a first-class deadline maker and a breaker of major stories. He’ll be remembered for his reports from the White House lawn, his booming voice that presidents always answered and his kind heart”.
Plante served as the CBS News White House correspondent for 35 years during the administrations of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush as well as the first black president of the United States, Barack Obama, and covered the State Department during the administration of George H.W. Bush. He was known for his baritone voice, which he used to launch questions from afar.
Plante was not afraid of anything, during one long stretch when there were few White House press conferences, Plante shouted at then-president George W. Bush about his lack of availability.
When the president announced the resignation of his advisor, Karl Rove, in 2007, and began walking away without taking questions, Plante piped up loudly, “If he’s so smart, how come you lost Congress?”
At the time of the incident, Plante said, “Our asking questions should not be dependent on what the White House thinks the mood or the tone of an event should be,” and added, “And the fact that they say ‘no questions’ or 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 preserve and aggressively push our right to ask.”
When Plante was not covering the White House, he would usually be found talking about fine wines as he was known as one of Washington’s most knowledgeable wine aficionados whose prodigious collection was thought to be one of the best in the nation’s capital.
Plante also reported on the Vietnam War on four separate tours in 1964, 1967, 1971-1972 and 1975, earning two awards for his work.
Plante is one of only four CBS News correspondents who won an Emmy Award in 1972 for a five-part series broadcast on the “CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite” in December 1971.
Plante had also won an Overseas Press Club Award for “Best Radio Spot News Reporting from Abroad” as part of the CBS News team covering the fall of Vietnam and Cambodia.
At the 50th anniversary of the march, Obama said Plante “who covered the marches then and who is with us here today, quipped that the growing number of White people lowered the quality of the singing. For those who marched though, those old gospel songs must have never sounded so sweet.”
“I think we knew at the time that it was pretty historic, given the reputation of Alabama and civil rights,” Plante said.
Plante was predeceased by 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 film producer; three brothers, Richard, Jim and John; sons Michael, Dan, Christopher, Brian and David.
Plante is also survived by eight grandchildren and a great-grandchild.