Longtime White House correspondent Bill Plante died Wednesday, his family confirmed with CBS News ― the network where he spent more than half a century covering presidential administrations, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and more.
Plante, who retired in 2016 as one of the longest-serving White House correspondents in history, was 84 and died of respiratory failure, his family said.
“60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl said, “He was brilliant, as a reporter and as a human being,” according to 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,” continued Stahl, who covered the White House with Plante for a decade. “He’ll be remembered for his reports from the White House lawn, his booming voice that presidents always answered and his kind heart.”
For the last 30 years of his career, Plante served as a senior White House correspondent for CBS News, covering the presidential administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. It was a job he took seriously, and he earned a reputation for his unshakeable lines of questioning during White House press conferences.
“I have no wasted sympathy on any occupant of the White House,” Plante told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1997. “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.”
Plante famously spoke out when George W. Bush’s administration gave little access to the press, making a splash in 2007 when the president announced the resignation of adviser Karl Rove and began to leave without taking any questions. Plante shouted after him, “If [Rove is] … so smart, how come you lost Congress?”
“Our asking questions should not be dependent on what the White House thinks the mood or the tone of an event should be,” Plante said in remarks following the incident. “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.”
Planet was such a ubiquitous presence at press conferences that Obama once noted a rare absence.
“Bill Plante? No? Bill’s not here? That’s shocking,” Obama said during a 2009 press briefing.
Before becoming a White House correspondent, Plante reported from the front lines of some of the biggest moments in 20th century history.
In 1964, the year that CBS News hired him, Plante embarked on his first of four tours in Vietnam to cover the war there ― earning him a shared Emmy Award. The following year, CBS dispatched him to Alabama to interview and walk alongside Martin Luther King Jr. during the voting-rights marches from Selma to Montgomery.
Plante liked to have a good time during his travels with the White House press corps, too. While covering then-President Bill Clinton’s visit to New Zealand in 1999, he joined White House aides in a bungee jumping excursion over the Kawarau River. Right before jumping, Plante looked into a camera and declared, “This is Bill Plante of CBS News, proving that you’re never too old to do something really stupid.”
Outside of work, Plante was known for being a regular at his gym and a wine connoisseur with one of Washington’s best wine collections. He sometimes reported on wine for CBS’ “Early Show” and “CBS Sunday Morning.”
He is survived by his wife and five of his six children.