Martin Plissner, 87; shaped coverage of politics from behind the scenes

WASHINGTON — Martin Plissner, the former executive political director of CBS News who helped shape campaign coverage viewed by millions of Americans for more than three decades, died Feb. 6 at the Washington Home hospice. He was 87.

The cause was cancer, said his daughter Sarah Plissner.

By the time Mr. Plissner retired in 1997, he had contributed to or led CBS coverage of nine presidential elections, beginning with Lyndon B. Johnson’s victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964.


Mr. Plissner was widely admired for the depth of his expertise and for the extent of his sourcing in the political community inside and beyond Washington.

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Unlike anchors and on-screen reporters, he was not a familiar face to viewers of the nightly news and other public affairs programs. But his behind-the-scenes role allowed him to direct the stand-up reports and visual elements that became staples of modern election coverage.

He defended the use of exit polls and the media’s attention to what is sometimes called horse-race politics — the who’s-up-and-who’s-down reporting often derided by critics of modern journalism.

Mr. Plissner wrote frequently for publications including The Washington Post and The New York Times and forcefully promoted TV programming as a vital element of civic life.

His first marriage, to Doris Kaplan, ended in divorce.


He leaves his wife of 40 years, Susan Morrison; a son; two daughters; and a brother.