A native of Richmond, Virginia, Duke attended the University of Richmond where he majored in English. After he graduated in 1947, he became a sportswriter for Associated Press (AP) in Richmond. Within a few years, he was reporting on major national stories, particularly the struggle for Civil rights. His byline became known nationally and, after ten years with the organization, AP rewarded him with a permanent assignment to its Washington bureau.
He covered the 1960 Presidential campaign for The Wall Street Journal and in 1963 joined NBC News as a Capitol Hill reporter. After 11 years with the network, he moved to PBS to become their esteemed low-key moderator of Washington Week In Review. The previous host, Duke's former NBC colleague, Robert MacNeil had given up his post to start PBS' nightly news and analysis program The Robert MacNeil Report. Duke continued his hosting duties for a record twenty years, as Washington Week in Review became the longest-running series on PBS, won an Emmy Award and gained an audience of 4.6 million.
Duke retired as a full-time journalist in 1994, but continued to contribute reports to his old program from his new base in London, where he lived in 1995-1996. He also served as a news analyst for the BBC and provided an Alistair Cooke-like weekly radio "Letter from London" to National Public Radio (NPR)'s Washington station WETA. In 1999, upon the dismissal of his successor, Ken Bode, he briefly returned as moderator of Washington Week in Review until the eventual permanent host, Gwen Ifill, was able to assume her new duties.
Paul Duke was 78 when he died of acute leukemia at his home in Washington, D.C. He had a son, Paul Jr. from his first marriage to Janet Johnston. Since 1985 he had been married to Janet Wachter.