“I’m about to throw up.” So begins the prologue to Katy Tur’s Unbelievable. The author does not hide where she’s coming from. Although Tur did not cast a ballot this past election, her preferences and prejudices are clear. Tur, an NBC reporter who covered Trump from start to finish, emerges both disgusted and energized by the ordeal.
On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly mocked her, and his supporters reviled her. Indeed, NBC had to hire a security detail to protect Tur, and the Secret Service once escorted her from an arena. Mind you, Tur was not a candidate, but a pool reporter.
In Unbelievable, Tur provides a window into the slog that was the 2016 presidential election. She shares a lot, from Trump’s tantrums, to descriptions of his devoted following, to the grind of the trail, to her own ups and downs. She also makes it clear that in the Age of Trump, being a reporter is not what it used to be—now it means possibly having a target on your back.
As the centripetal forces of politics continue to intensify, the media has not escaped becoming an ever-larger part of the story. Journalists are no longer scribes, if they ever were just that. Now, they are players as well. They mix it up with politicians and candidates on Twitter, some even trolling their subjects, and sometimes reacting so inappropriately to political events that they have to apologize. Sometimes it’s the politicians who have to apologize, like when Congressman Greg Gianforte body slammed the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs on the eve of his election.
But in a new era of personality-driven infotainment, reporters who become the news can easily use it to their own professional advantage. Think Megyn Kelly, and now Katy Tur. (Interestingly, both Kelly’s and Tur’s tell-all books were published by Harper Collins, a subsidiary of News Corp., Kelly’s old employer at Fox News. If you think politics comes before a best seller, think again.)
What Unbelievable lacks in policy deep-dives and analysis, it attempts to make up for in color and detail. The book is the latest installment in campaign travelogues, a genre that dates as least as far back as the 1972 presidential race, and Timothy Crouse’s Boys on the Bus, a fact that Tur injects into her work. She endeavors to be part that continuum and succeeds, though with the narrator serving as a quasi-victim of some particularly squeamish, if not tawdry circumstances, thanks to Trump.
The author swears a lot, lets us in on her social life, and depicts her relationships with her fellow reporters, which range from competitive to sisterly to warm to indulgent. Tur, herself, comes across as unabashedly driven. Beating out other reporters for a scoop is all part of the game, and everyone knows it. All that having been said, the focus of Unbelievable is Trump as seen through Tur’s lens.
From the beginning, it seems the future president had his eye on Tur, according to Tur. At a June 2015 rally in New Hampshire, Trump announced from the podium, “Katy hasn’t even looked up at me once.” Tur had become an early Trump foil and focal point.
Weeks later, she had a sit-down interview with Trump, and things spiraled downward from there. Apparently, during their interview, Tur challenged his contention that illegal aliens had higher crime rates than U.S.-born citizens, and pointed to a Pew Research study to back it up. Trump, however, was having none of it.
As Tur tells it, Trump began yelling that Tur would “never be president!” with Tur thinking (wrongly) that both of them would arrive at that same fate. To compound Tur’s discomfort, Hope Hicks, Trump’s communications director, lashed out too, saying, “You can’t speak like that to a presidential candidate. It isn’t respectful.” Suffice to say, if Tur had in fact crossed a line, she wouldn’t be the only one. Regardless, it earned big props at 30 Rock.
Unfortunately, that initial first interview would be just another episode in the pair’s fractious coexistence. After a 2015 North Carolina rally, Tur observed that Trump had abruptly ended a speech and walked off the stage in the face of protesters who had appeared near the podium. Apparently, Trump did not like her record of events, and retribution came swiftly. Tur earned herself another scolding from Hicks, and a tweet lashing from Trump: “@KatyTurNBC…should be fired for dishonest reporting,” he tweeted. “@KatyTurNBC, 3rd rate reporter….”
Days later, at rally in South Carolina, Trump again called-out Tur for the crowd’s delectation: “She’s back there. Little Katy. She’s back there.”
At a late October 2016 event in Miami, just days before FBI Director James Comey reignited the Clinton email storm, Trump again took aim at Tur, albeit with a smirk, saying “Katy, you’re not reporting it…there’s something happening, Katy. There’s something happening.” Reflexively, members of the crowd begin to close in on her, while death threats started blowing around on Twitter like “loose trash,” she recalls in the book.
Predictably, Team Trump expected the young NBC reporter to fall into line, and take it as a joke. The Trump campaign trotted out Kellyanne Conway on Morning Joe, who then absolved her boss of any and all wrongdoing, and told the audience that Trump “didn’t mean it maliciously.”
So here we are, in the year 2017, where a sitting President craves media adulation, but all too often reveals his contempt for the press. The press, often symbiotically, cashes in on the role. Note how Trump trashes The New York Times, but makes the Times’ Maggie Haberman a go-to-gal for interviews.
Fittingly, Tur records how Trump once called her seeking an apology that he did not receive. He ends the call by telling Tur, “be fair to me Katy…you and I should be friends.” Friends, indeed.
Lloyd Green is the managing member of Ospreylytics, LLC, a research and analytics firm. He was opposition research counsel to George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign, and served in the Department of Justice between 1990 and 1992.