Katy Tur’s memoir chronicles the Trump campaign — and the indignities of reporting while female
BOOK REVIEW | How she endured a kiss from Trump
When NBC News correspondent Katy Tur spent more than 500 days covering Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, she did so, Tur asserts in her new book, “with one audience in mind: the American voter.”
Tur’s chronicle reads like it was written for her colleagues on the trail, full of insidery reminiscences, professional self-doubt, last-second flights, lousy hotels and gossip.
The author describes her constant anxiety about her job prospects and also includes dutiful praise for colleagues who might be searching for their names in the book’s index.
What makes her memoir stand out
What elevates “Unbelievable” beyond one more pedestrian campaign memoir is Tur’s skill at capturing the constant indignities of campaign reporting while female, including the worst indignity of all: enduring the fixation of Trump himself.
Tur’s relationship with Trump
During his campaign events, Trump often called out the news media, but he delighted in singling out Tur, publicly deriding her as “little Katy” and a “third-rate reporter.” Part of the animosity was in response to Tur’s (accurate) reporting about his behavior at rallies, which prompted him to threaten a boycott of NBC News and to demand an apology. (They settled things over the phone, although Tur is adamant that she did not apologize.)
On one occasion, Trump went so far as to kiss her — an unwelcome and uninvited act — just before he appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“Before I know what’s happening, his hands are on my shoulders and his lips are on my cheek,” Tur writes. “My eyes widen. My body freezes. My heart stops.” Her immediate reaction is telling. “F — . I hope the cameras didn’t see that. My bosses are never going to take me seriously.”
Trump chastises Tur at the end of a July 2015 interview, telling her, “You’ll never be president!” (“Neither will you,” she thinks to herself.) It’s an odd line of attack — Tur is not the one running, after all — but it’s meant to undercut her confidence. “I’m not going to let this guy get into my head,” she tells herself when he mocks her at a rally. “Unbelievable” shifts between a chronological timeline of the race and a detailed breakdown of Election Day, and along the way Tur provides an italicized inner monologue of what she was really thinking.
“Can I say penis on TV?” she deliberates after Trump defends his girth during a GOP primary debate. “What about manhood? Mini-Trump?” She bucks herself up after one of his public attacks: “Shake it off. It’s worse if they think he scares you. Just smile.” And after she realizes that Trump has indeed won the presidency, Tur wonders: “Does anyone really believe he’ll respect term limits?”
This last point is less a constitutional concern than a personal one; by this time Tur was exhausted with the race, with Trump, with concerns about her personal safety — she was constantly harassed by Trump supporters, and after a rally in which the candidate called out her name, Secret Service agents escorted her to her car — and with the uncertainty of what would come next for her career. “This job is hell,” she confides. “On relationships. On your body. On your mind.” To any viewers enthralled with the glamour of campaign reporting, Katy Tur is here to tell you it’s not all that.
On being a female reporter
Tur invariably looks sharp and composed on television, and the author reveals the effort behind it all.
“Being a woman is a pain in the ass,” she explains. You have to look ‘good.’ Your hair needs to be neat — not just combed through, but ‘done.’ Blow-dried, ironed, curled, sprayed. Your face needs to be enhanced. Foundation, powder, eye shadow, mascara, lipstick, blush, contour. Your clothes have to look sharp, too. And you can never wear the same thing twice — at least not in the same week. A guy can throw on the same suit every single day and no one would notice.”
And she squeezes in this ode to Spanx. “The form-fitting bodysuits might as well be the official sponsor of the female press corps and perhaps a few members of the male press corps, too,” Tur writes.
“The hotel mirrors of America know we all need some curve correction. But try to take yourself seriously as you open a package labeled, SHAPE MY DAY HIGH-WAISTED GIRL SHORT.”
On Trump supporters
Her complaint about female television journalists having to mind their appearances rings a little hollow when Tur assesses Trump supporters by their attire, too, breaking them down into categories such as Cowboy America, Biker America, Angry Conservative Uncle America and Mom America, among others. Still, she notes that outside a rally, a Trump fan could be your firefighter, cashier, or neighbor, friendly and polite.
“But inside a Trump rally,” she writes, “these people are unchained. They can drop their everyday niceties. They can yell and scream and say things they’d never say out loud on the outside.”
The difference, of course, is the candidate himself. “Trump is crude, and in his halo of crudeness other people get to be crude as well.” That halo encompasses the violence that emerged at some Trump events. “He seemed to encourage it, like an indulgent father who would never ground his son because of a justified fight,” Tur writes.
‘The news is not about you’
Still, she keeps coming back to her campaign comrades, even addressing them directly. “Think about what we’ve been through,” Tur reflects in her final chapter. “For the rest of our lives we’ll need each other just to vouch for stories that our children, spouses, and other friends surely won’t believe.”
Deep into the book, Tur recalls the advice of a longtime television journalist, who managed to remain professional on air no matter how angry or tired or sick he felt.
“No one cares,” he told her. “The news is not about you.”
Those words stayed with her, she writes. “I can hear him in my head now, prodding me.”
Let’s hope she keeps listening.
“UNBELIEVABLE: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History”
By Katy Tur. Dey St. 304 pp. $26.99