The White House Correspondents’ Association is pleased to announce two legendary and deeply missed journalists will be honored with this year’s Dunnigan-Payne Prize, the late Gwen Ifill of the PBS NewsHour and Washington Week, who left us in 2016 and the late Bill Plante of CBS News, who passed away in 2022. Their indelible legacies helped to shape political journalism and made the press corps stronger by their example.
The Dunnigan-Payne Prize was created in 2022 to raise up the achievements of Alice Dunnigan and Ethel Payne, the first two African American women to serve as members of the White House press corps. In the prize’s inaugural year, Ms. Dunnigan and Ms. Payne were the initial recipients of this award that will carry their names to honor the career achievements of White House correspondents.
Bill Plante, CBS News
William “Bill” Plante was one of the longest serving White House broadcast journalists in history, working on the beat for 35 years covering the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He served as WHCA president from 1986-87. He was beloved in the press corps for his kindness, but didn’t pull punches with the politicians he covered. He used his recognizable baritone voice to lob questions, even when the White House wished he wouldn’t.
“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 2007. “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.”
In addition to his long career covering the White House, Plante also covered the State Department and had served four tours covering the war in Vietnam, including the fall of Saigon and Cambodia, the civil rights movement and all the presidential elections from 1968 to 2016. His remarkable tenure at CBS News spanned 52 years.
Gwen Ifill, PBS NewsHour and Washington Week
Gwen Ifill was a groundbreaking journalist who covered eight presidential campaigns, moderated two vice presidential debates in 2004 and 2008 and in 2016, while battling cancer, moderated a Democratic primary debate. She was a co-anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour and moderator and managing editor of Washington Week on PBS. She joined the network in 1999 to helm Washington Week, becoming the first African American woman to host a nationally televised public affairs program. At that time, she also joined the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer as a senior correspondent, again making history in 2013 alongside Woodruff as the first female anchor team for a national evening newscast.
Ifill covered the White House for the New York Times from 1991-1994 and moved to broadcasting at NBC News covering politics and Capitol Hill from 1994-1999. She began her reporting career with the Boston Herald, followed by assignments with the Baltimore Evening Sun and the Washington Post.
Ifill’s book,“The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama” was a New York Times bestseller.
Gwen was a mentor to many who saw opportunity in her success as a black woman in a field dominated by men. In 2013, she said, “a little girl now, watching the news, when they see me and Judy (Woodruff) sitting side by side. It will occur to them that that’s perfectly normal.”
As a journalist, she often asked biting questions with a smile. “I wanted to be a journalist, because I like to ask questions,” Gwen said in a 2009 interview with Julian Bond for the Explorations in Black Leadership Series. “And I like the idea that someone might feel responsible for answering them.”
Gwen and Bill will be honored at this year’s annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner on April 29th in Washington, DC. Arden Farhi of CBS News has generously agreed to produce a video presentation about their careers that will be presented during the dinner. The package will be narrated by CBS’s John Dickerson, a friend of both honorees.
The awards will be accepted on stage by Bill’s son Chris Plante and Gwen’s brother Bert Ifill.
The event will also include a speech from President Biden, comedy from Roy Wood Jr., as well as the annual presentation of journalism awards and scholarships.More News