How a TV news cor­re­spon­dent be­came a fa­vorite tar­get of Trump

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Car­los Lozada

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 of that ex­pe­ri­ence ap­pears to fa­vor a dif­fer­ent au­di­ence. It 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 about which NBC News embed was mak­ing out in a garage with which CNN staffer. (“They de­nied it. We didn’t be­lieve them.”) Yet 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.

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

UN­BE­LIEV­ABLE: My Front-Row Seat to the Cra­zi­est Cam­paign in Amer­i­can His­tory By Katy Tur. Dey St. 304 pp. $26.99

Trump de­fends his girth dur­ing a GOP pri­mary de­bate. “What about man­hood? Mini­Trump?” 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 wor­ries about her safety — she was con­stantly ha­rassed by Trump sup­port­ers, and af­ter a rally where 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, Tur is here to tell you it’s not all that.

We see her haul­ing a suit­case through a snowy side street in Queens, pants ripped and blood­ied af­ter a fall, drip­ping wet from the waist down, rush­ing to catch her flight to Iowa. We watch her des­per­ately try­ing to use a curling iron in the bath­room at a Trump event. “I had to snake the cord around the trash can, and even then the curling iron didn’t make it all the way to the mir­ror,” she re­calls. “I made up the dif­fer­ence with my neck.” (A Trump­sup­port­ing hair­dresser fi­nally helps her out.) And af­ter Tur sneaks in time for a yoga class, she finds a flood of emails and texts, be­cause Hil­lary Clin­ton has wob­bled on the street af­ter a 9/11 me­mo­rial event, spark­ing a com­plete freak-out about the Demo­cratic can­di­date’s health. “The one hour in a whole g--d--- year I turned off my phone,” she com­plains. “I haven’t shut it off since.”

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.”

In be­tween such per­sonal mo­ments, Tur’s cam­paign re­port­ing proves per­cep­tive, of­ten pre­view­ing chal­lenges the Trump team would face once in of­fice. When she and her NBC News col­leagues de­scribe the cam­paign as a “bare-bones team, de­bil­i­tated by in­fight­ing, poor co­or­di­na­tion with al­lies, and a mes­sage that changes with Trump’s whims,” they also cap­ture what Trump’s gov­ern­ing style would re­sem­ble. And when a GOP state chair­man talks to Tur af­ter an “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” tape fea­tures Trump brag­ging about grab­bing women “by the p----,” her dilemma evokes that of White House aides to­day. “How do I do my job and not turn into a hor­ri­ble hu­man be­ing?” the of­fi­cial asks her.

Tur’s im­agery is oc­ca­sion­ally over­done (“We have to face the lit­eral bliz­zard that is rag­ing out­side to con­front them on the metaphor­i­cal bliz­zard that Trump’s pe­nis ref­er­ence has cre­ated,” she writes about chas­ing Trump’s op­po­nents af­ter a GOP de­bate), but she has a knack for break­ing down char­ac­ters and mo­ments. “He looks like a sad sales­man wear­ing his fa­ther’s suit,” she thought when she first met Corey Le­wandowski. She dis­misses Trump’s cam­paign staff as “the Bad News Bears of Pol­i­tics, the peo­ple the other can­di­dates didn’t pick.” And the over­whelm­ingly white au­di­ence mem­bers at a swel­ter­ing Trump rally in Florida all sport “Make Amer­ica Great Again” hats, “like red sprin­kles atop a great melt­ing mass of vanilla ice cream.”

The au­thor spent plenty of time ob­serv­ing such crowds — some­times too much. Her com­plaint about fe­male tele­vi­sion jour­nal­ists hav­ing to mind their ap­pear­ance 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, your cashier or your 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.

Such in­sights are far more use­ful than, say, the au­thor’s con­stant anx­i­ety about her job prospects or her du­ti­ful praise for col­leagues who might be search­ing for their names in the book’s in­dex. “I know the com­pany never ex­pected to have me on pol­i­tics this year, and some­times I feel like they don’t know what to do with me,” she frets in a typ­i­cal pas­sage. Fair enough; pretty much ev­ery jour­nal­ist I know is ob­sessed with ri­vals and is al­ways gam­ing out the next gig. But we also learn that “no one at NBC News works harder” than An­drea Mitchell, that the net­work “wouldn’t have been able to break half as much news” with­out Ali Vi­tali, that Kasie Hunt is “a badass” and that “when­ever I hear Lester Holt say my name I get ner­vous.” Also, she de­scribes Guardian re­porter Ben Ja­cobs as “a twenty-first cen­tury Rene Descartes.” I think, there­fore I am not in­ter­ested. Tur is mem­o­rable on the con­trivances and idio­syn­cra­sies of tele­vi­sion jour­nal­ism. Nearly ev­ery hour, for in­stance, some an­chor asks her, with great earnest­ness: “What have your sources been telling you?” Tur dead­pans to the reader: “As if I have a tiny Trump staffer who lives in my ear and is con­stantly feed­ing me new in­for­ma­tion.” She ac­knowl­edges the per­verse in­cen­tives of cam­paign re­port­ing, in which cor­re­spon­dents re­ceive more air time and bet­ter as­sign­ments if the can­di­dates they cover do well. And the most af­fect­ing chap­ter in “Un­be­liev­able” is Tur’s di­gres­sion into the story of her par­ents, jour­nal­ists who up­ended live tele­vi­sion re­port­ing in Los An­ge­les one car chase, riot and he­li­copter ride at a time.

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.”

I hope she keeps lis­ten­ing.


Mem­bers of the news me­dia cover a Don­ald Trump pres­i­den­tial cam­paign rally at an Iowa mid­dle school in Jan­uary 2016. The can­di­date’s an­i­mos­ity to­ward jour­nal­ists on the cam­paign trail in­cluded sin­gling them out and in­sult­ing them by name, as hap­pened to NBC News’s Katy Tur, whom Trump called “lit­tle Katy” and a “third-rate re­porter.”

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