Bill Plante, who spent more than a half-century with CBS News as one of the longest-serving White House broadcast journalists in history, died Wednesday of respiratory failure at his home in Washington, his family announced. He was 84.
Plante reported on the Vietnam War, covered the civil rights movement and all 13 U.S. presidential elections from 1968 to 2016 and anchored the CBS Sunday Night News from 1988-95 before retiring in 2016 after 52 years with the division.
The multiple Emmy winner was a White House correspondent for 35 years during the administrations of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He also covered the State Department while George H.W. Bush was president.
“I have no wasted sympathy on any occupant of the White House,” Plante once said. “They are out to present themselves in the best possible light, and it’s our job to find out, if we can, what’s actually going on.”
“He was brilliant, as a reporter and as a human being,” 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl, who covered the White House with Plante for 10 years, told CBS News. “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.”
William Madden Plante was born in Chicago on Jan. 14, 1938. He graduated from Loyola University Chicago and was studying law when he left school to join WISN-TV, the CBS affiliate in Milwaukee, as assistant news director.
After four years at the station, he was awarded a journalism fellowship by CBS to study political science at Columbia University, then was hired by CBS News in New York as a reporter and assignment editor in June 1964. Nine months later, he interviewed Dr. Martin Luther King on the Alabama march from Selma to Montgomery.
Journalists at that event “were regarded as troublemakers [by whites] because what we did was expose what was going on for all the world to see,” he said 50 years later. “This shocked the nation.”
Plante was named a CBS News correspondent in 1966 and spent 10 years in the Chicago bureau while also covering the 1968 presidential campaigns of Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon and stories around the world, from Egypt to Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, he reported on the Vietnam War in 1964, 1967, 1971-72 and, through the fall of Saigon, 1975.
As a White House correspondent, he was known for shouting out questions at news conferences. In 2007, when George W. Bush and senior political adviser Karl Rove announced that Rove was stepping down but refused to take questions, Plante famously yelled, “If he’s so smart, why did you lose Congress?” On this rare occasion, he didn’t get an answer.
Survivors include his wife of 34 years, Robin Smith, a documentary producer; sons Michael, Dan, Christopher, Brian and David; brothers Richard, Jim and John; eight grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.