In the spring of 2015, Katy Tur was an unknown foreign correspondent in London, spending lazy weekends in Paris, and planning a summer vacation in Italy. Then the call came from her bosses to go on the road with the Trump campaign. "Six weeks, tops," they told her. Some 500 days later, Trump was president, and Tur had a new career on the NBC News political team.
PW recently caught up with Tur to talk about Trump, and her new book, Unbelievable: My Front Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, a personal, behind-the-scenes look at Tur's wild ride on the campaign trail.
After 500-something days on the Trump campaign trail, was writing this book therapeutic for you?
It did have its moments of therapy. I remember laughing to myself, and thinking ‘did this really happen?’ It was almost comical how absurdly over the top the experience was. In a way, I was able to relive it and kind of exorcise it from my system. But there were also moments of withdrawal—moments of, oh my god, I miss this crazy life I had been living, even though it was in many ways grueling and terrible.
Trump liked to whip up anger at the media at his rallies and often called you out by name, so much so that you needed security at some points. You write about that experience pretty matter-of-factly, but were there moments when you were scared, when you felt like you were in personal danger?
Yes, there was. There were times when I was nervous. Am I angry that I had to have security with me, when I was just trying to do my job? Yes. I think it’s ridiculous that lives were threatened in such a way that news organizations had to hire armed guards. But being in the news business, you become kind of jaded. There was some very real danger during the campaign, but I was a bit callous to it because how else do you get through that? How do you function every day if you’re always scared, or always looking behind you?
Trump often calls the media fake news, or dishonest. What’s your take on the state of the media today, given the president’s attacks and with sites like InfoWars now existing online alongside the New York Times and The Washington Post?
It’s difficult, and part of the reason it’s so complicated today is because on the Internet it can be very difficult for the average reader to parse what is real and what is not. So when the president goes out and calls us fake news, while elevating organizations that don’t have the same journalistic standards, that’s scary. Oftentimes, readers gravitate to what they agree with, or what makes them feel most comfortable. But the thing about news is, it’s not supposed to comfort you. News is fundamentally something that should agitate you. It should expose things that don’t want to be exposed.
Counter to the way Trump portrays the media, your book humanizes the experience of reporters on the trail. Was that a choice for you—to write a book that was personal, rather than political?
I never wanted to write a political book. That’s just not me. I think what’s more valuable is what you said—the human side. To show what it was like for a reporter to be on this crazy ride, and to show people that, no, we’re not getting directions from some suits up high, or working secretly behind the scenes to lie to you, or convince you of something. I think part of the problem is that people don’t see us as people. So the more they can connect to us, and see that we are just regular people trying to get by, trying to do the best we can, trying to survive day to day, to get decent food or do our hair in a public bathroom, that’s beneficial. I think that helps our industry in general.
You write about sitting in meetings with Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell early in the campaign, and you’re kind of in awe of them. Now, you’re a fixture on the NBC political team and guest hosting MTP Daily. Is political journalism something you always wanted to do?
Yes, and no. I remember sitting in the office of my very first news director, at KTLA, and one of his friends happened to be there, somebody in the news business himself, and he was asking me the standard, ‘what do you want to do with your career’ questions. I said I wanted to be in the White House Press Corps—and he laughed at me and said I would never do it. It’s a good way to get me to do something—tell me I can’t do it. So, I had it in my mind that political reporting was something I should do, although it wasn’t an immediate desire for me.
But yeah, coming back from London, and having Chuck Todd coaching me, that was surreal—because it’s Chuck Todd. He’s the political director. He’s a huge deal. And having Andrea Mitchell say complimentary things about my reporting on the air was mind blowing to me. I was floored by it. If you had said to me two years ago that I’d be guest hosting for Chuck Todd on a regular basis I would have laughed in your face. But then, two years ago people would have laughed in your face if you said Donald Trump would be president.
Political campaigns have always been brutal. But this last one, it felt to me like something broke. Do you think we’re ever going to find a sense of normalcy in American politics again?
I don’t know. Are we ever going to see someone like Donald Trump again? Yes, we will. I don’t know who that’s going to be or what they’re going to look like, because Trump is so unique. It’s hard to fathom what could follow Trump. But if it remains this crazy, I’m going to buy a piece of land in New Zealand and start a commune for recovering political journalists.