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Remembering CBS News' Bill Plante, who protected the public's right to know

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Former CBS News correspondent Bill Plante has died. He was 84 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CBS SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS")

BILL PLANTE: This is the CBS Sunday Night News. Bill Plante, reporting.

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Plante spent 52 years at CBS News. During that time, he reported on the arrival of U.S. troops in Vietnam...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CBS NEWS")

PLANTE: They were combat-ready as they landed, but there were no Vietcong on the beach. Vietnamese troops had secured the area.

CHANG: ...Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s march across Edmund Pettus Bridge...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CBS NEWS")

PLANTE: Have all the activities of the past weeks in Selma come to fruition now? Is this the grand climax?

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR: I would say this and its culmination in the March on the Capitol on Thursday.

SUMMERS: ...And of course, the administrations of four U.S. presidents, starting with Ronald Reagan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PLANTE: Did you make a mistake in sending arms to Tehran, sir?

RONALD REAGAN: No, and I'm not taking any more questions.

ANN COMPTON: Bill Plante rarely raised his voice, but when he did, that deep baritone rolled out. And he demanded answers, knowing that he and the rest of us represented the American people.

CHANG: That is former ABC News White House correspondent Ann Compton, who covered presidential politics for decades alongside Plante. She says the White House press corps is a hearty band of brothers and sisters.

COMPTON: We didn't share sources or share scoops, but we certainly knew we had to live in a very small environment with each other. Bill was one of those colleagues who respected and got along with everyone else.

SUMMERS: Of course, it helped that he would often buy wine for the table at dinner, a kind of unofficial sommelier for the press corps.

COMPTON: He was an incredibly generous, very convivial compatriot on the road as we traveled.

SUMMERS: First and foremost, though, he was a reporter. Compton says, he never took his eye off of what he saw as his mission.

COMPTON: To watch those who have been entrusted with the public good and make sure that they are performing and looking after the American public interest.

CHANG: Indeed, when Bill Plante retired in 2016, he said as much in an interview on CBS. Presidents, he said, often try to bypass the press. If he was shut out during a campaign, he entered events as a spectator. In the White House, though, he protested.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PLANTE: It's very important, not for us as reporters. It's important for the public. It's the public's right to know that we're supposed to be protecting, not our right to know. It's not about us.

SUMMERS: Today, though, the story is about Bill Plante, longtime CBS News correspondent. He died yesterday at the age of 84. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.