As a CBS correspondent, Bill Plante has seen the thick of American history: the battlelines of Vietnam, Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit and the workings of every White House administration since the inauguration of former President Ronald Reagan.
Plante will focus on the Obama administration in his talk “The Political System in the Wake of the 2012 Elections” at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy, part of the Women’s Club Contemporary Issues Forum speaker series.
Even while being interviewed over the phone, Plante was stationed inside the White House press room, armed and ready for the next update on the Obama family’s visit to Africa. Plante, the senior White House correspondent for “CBS This Morning,” said his Saturday lecture will mostly address current events. He hopes to change audience perceptions on the politics behind White House inner-workings.
“People who look at government would like very much if decisions were made on a rational policy basis,” Plante said. “But most decisions in any White House also have a very large dose of political consideration.”
Plante began his tenure as a CBS White House correspondent in 1981, right after Reagan was elected president. Though Plante had already been working at CBS for 15 years and had covered former President Richard Nixon’s 1968 and 1972 campaigns, this was the first time he was assigned the White House beat.
Plante paid his dues in the early 1960s as a broadcaster for a small station in Milwaukee, but he was always fascinated by politics.
“I was particularly attracted to what I saw on the network in those days, which was more than 50 years ago,” he said. “Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow, people like that.”
After studying political science at Columbia University, Plante landed a job with CBS in 1964 and was immediately sent to Philadelphia, Miss., to cover the murders of three civil rights activists.
“It was never harder to separate my own feelings about justice, to detach those from my work, than when I covered the civil rights movement in the South,” Plante said.
Throughout the the late ’60s and early ’70s, Plante travelled back and forth from the U.S. to Vietnam to report on the Vietnam War. Plante said that being in Vietnam for the war’s end in 1975 was one of the most profound moments in his journalistic career.
“War, of course, makes an impression on anyone,” Plante said, “and it’s hard to overstate how dehumanizing and difficult wars are to witness firsthand.”
This is not Plante’s first time at Chautauqua Institution. His first visit was in the fall of 1996, when he was covering Clinton’s debate preparation retreat on the grounds. Plante also accompanied his wife here several years ago when she spoke about a film she had worked on.