Millions of Americans heard the news of their times from Mr. Palmer, who reported from around the United States and the world for decades as a correspondent. Many of his bleary-eyed countrymen welcomed the start of each weekday with him from 1982 to 1989, when he was news anchor of the “Today” show.
Mr. Palmer, a self-described “kid from the East Tennessee mountains,” held reporting assignments in New York, Tel Aviv, Beirut and Paris. Throughout the 1970s, he covered Arab-Israeli conflicts, the Arab oil embargo, the war in Cyprus and the civil wars in Lebanon and Angola.
On April 24, 1980, six months into his job as White House correspondent, he learned before any other reporter about the Carter administration’s failed attempt to rescue 52 Americans taken hostage in Tehran. A mob of militants had seized them the previous November in retaliation for Western support for the recently deposed shah, and many of the hostages were tortured with mock executions.
The rescue operation was canceled after a helicopter crashed with a transport plane, killing eight American servicemen, and several other helicopters were damaged by flying debris.
Mr. Palmer received a tip about unusual activity at the White House late in the night of the planned raid, a Thursday. Virtually alone as midnight approached, he caught sight of an unusually high number of limousines and other vehicles in the driveway.
Mr. Palmer started to phone the homes of top national security personnel, including Zbigniew Brzezinski, and his calls went unanswered. Mr. Palmer assumed the officials were at the late-night meeting. When he finally was able to confirm the story, he agreed to a White House request that he wait to report the news until the family members of the dead could be informed.
Mr. Palmer went on the air at 12:57 a.m. Friday, 21 minutes before his nearest competitor. His reporting earned him the White House Correspondents’ Association’s Merriman Smith Memorial Award for reporting under deadline pressure. (The Iranian captors released the hostages on Jan. 20, 1981, the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration as president.)
In all, Mr. Palmer covered five presidents and in the course of his work went fishing with Jimmy Carter, to the movies with former actor Reagan and to the golf links with Bill Clinton.
He anchored the first hours of NBC’s coverage of the space shuttle Challenger disaster on Jan. 28, 1986. He also wrote and anchored a 1988 one-hour documentary for NBC News, “The Pension Cookie Jar,” that helped identify a new threat to Americans’ financial security: corporate seizure of assets in employee retirement funds.