On June 1, 1964, 26 year-old Bill Plante reported to work as a new correspondent for CBS News in New York.
He’d spend the next five decades with the network, traveling to Vietnam and Iceland, to Moscow and Teheran. He’d cover every presidential campaign from 1968 on, and serve as a White House correspondent for four Presidents.
On the occasion of his 50th anniversary with CBS, Plante spoke with TVNewser, telling us his work has given him “a fabulous vantage point for history and for watching politics. I love it.”
So much so, he has no plans to retire. “I don’t have one of those wall calendars where I’m ‘x’ing’ out the days until I can go to an island somewhere,” Plante jokes.
He’s enjoying his job and proud of a news division he feels is re-energized by a return to its hard-news roots. “All of us who’ve been around here for a long time have lived through the various phases of CBS News, some of which we liked better than others. The current phase,” he pauses to emphasize, “we like a lot.”
He cites the “CBS Evening News,” helmed by network homegrown Scott Pelley, as an example. Plante also mentions “CBS This Morning,” adding that the show’s competitors are “all kind of doing entertainment.”
“I learned from people like [Mike] Wallace, [Walter] Cronkite, from many others,” he reflects. “I learned what was expected of good reporters. It isn’t something you can commodify easily, but you watch them work, and you see what their standards are…and you hold yourself to those same standards.”
He says CBS News maintains that journalistic integrity, declining to comment specifically about accusations of political bias at the network by former colleague Sheryl Attkisson. “I think we make a major effort to play it down the middle,” Plante says about the news division in general.
“I’ve never had anybody, in the last five years of covering this administration, or for that matter, the previous one, suggest that we go easy or go hard [on a particular President].”
The White House beat, and his time on the campaign trail, have provided some of the most memorable moments for Plante, along with covering the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War.
But the years of travel came at a price.
“It’s particularly difficult on a family,” says the father of six sons. “I was away so much of the time when my kids were young, and that cheated them. Would I do it all over again? Maybe not, if I knew exactly what I know now…. I’m just thankful that I’m close to my family today.”
He’s spending some time with his wife right now on vacation in France, where the couple is bicycling through the countryside. They’re planning 30-40 mile treks each day.
At the end of the trip, Plante will meet up with the White House press corps as President Obama visits Europe. When Obama speaks at Normandy to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day, it will be the fourth time Plante has covered such a presidential commemoration. “I was there with Reagan at the 40th, with Clinton at the 50th, and Bush at the 60th, so I’m delighted to be going back one more time.”
At 76, Plante’s energy and his enthusiasm for journalism seem boundless.
“I’ve tried to do a first-class job for the last fifty years,” Plante says. “Sometimes I’ve succeeded, and sometimes I haven’t. I’d like to think that I’m aware of the times when it could have been done better. But I really believe that good reporting and good writing is essential if you’re going to do this kind of work. And I’ve tried to do that.”