A veteran journalist
Being a CBS correspondent for almost five decades comes with the opportunities to get up close and personal with our country’s top leaders.
“One of the things you come to understand when you cover presidents is that they rarely drop their public personas,” said Bill Plante, 75, a Loyola University Chicago alumnus.
Plante has had a handful “off the record” visits with presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, two candidates who became president.
“Even in casual conversation, they rarely let their guard down,” he said. “Even so, you do get a sense of them as human beings. Reagan loved to tell stories about his days in the movie business. Nixon was painfully awkward in conversation with reporters. Clinton treated everyone like a long-lost relative – he commanded your attention but, like the others, didn’t reveal much of himself.”
Plante not only grew up in Rogers Park, but was also a former student of the all-male high school Loyola Academy, which was then housed in Dumbach Hall. Plante graduated from Loyola Academy in 1955.
“A good number of my classmates stayed at Loyola after high school,” he said. “Loyola was more of a commuter school back then.”
Plante then went on to attend Loyola University Chicago, graduating with an English degree in 1959. With the rigor of Jesuit education in high school and in college, Plante learned a lot from the Jesuits, especially in regards to being able to ask tough questions, using one’s intellect and making the right moral and ethical choices.
During his time as an undergraduate student, Plante’s extracurricular activities and jobs sparked his interest in journalism but also prepared him for his career. He wrote for the school newspaper, then called The Loyola News, and participated in student government as president. His two jobs were at radio stations in Evanston and the Loop, where he played classical music and worked as a radio announcer.
“The liberal arts education at Loyola is what helped and prepared me for what was to come,” Plante said.
Along with his major course requirements, the courses he took in history and politics involved a lot of reading but they enhanced his knowledge of how government works.
Shortly after graduating from Loyola in 1959, Plante enrolled for six weeks at Kent Law School in Chicago.
“I quit law school primarily because I realized that I was not that interested in law,” he said.
Plante then took a job that a former friend of his had at WISN-TV Channel 12 in Milwaukee. There he read commercials and reported news, sports and weather for 3 ½ years.
Receiving a political science fellowship through CBS to receive a master’s degree at Columbia University in New York, Plante left the program at Columbia to accept a broadcasting job at CBS on June 1, 1964.
“After quitting law school, I was really tired of school,” he said. “But taking that time to go back made a huge difference.”
Out of his 49 years at CBS, Plante has covered top news stories, especially as the White House correspondent for more than 30 years. With reports on politics, as well as covering four tours at Vietnam and the 1964-1965 civil rights movement, Plante can share his interests in politics through his experiences.
Despite his demands as a news broadcaster, Plante has taken the time to give back and to see the growth of his alma mater. A member of the board of trustees for nine years, Plante attended meetings every quarter and even helped in the hiring process of current President the Rev. Michael J. Garanzini.
“Students should consider themselves to be in a good spot at Loyola,” he said. “The Loyola of today was such a far cry (from) what it was 50 years ago.”
Plante also noted on the changes made in the last 20 years at Loyola.
“The quality of education has expanded and the facilities are great,” he said.
When touching on what he would have done different during his career, Plante stressed on thinking things through in advance.
“I wish I realized how hard it was on my family life,” he said.
Knowing what works for Plante when conducting interviews with important subjects, he shared some tips as to how to stay calm during these opportunities, emphasizing preparedness.
“I’ve found that I’m not nervous as long as I feel well prepared,” he said. “But there is a certain tension. You’re trying to do a couple of things at once: listen carefully to the answers so that you can follow up intelligently and at the same time, try to cover all the topics before the allotted time for the interview runs out. So, preparation is the key.”
Plante also notes the importance of being accessible and conversational during interviews.
“It also helps to realize that the person you’re interviewing – no matter how powerful or celebrated – is just another human being,” he said. “Try to conduct a conversation rather than just recite questions. And listen to what the subject is saying.”
He also emphasized the importance of discovering the many ways one can go in journalism.
“Be sure to hone in on what you like and stick with it,” he said. “Seek out people who do what you are interested in and talk about what it takes to get there.”