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The first time Donald Trump spoke to Katy Tur it was to chastise her. It was 2015 and the NBC foreign correspondent—now anchor for the network—was in New York City visiting from London, where she was living at the time, when a colleague volunteered her for a last-minute assignment. The gig was to report on a Trump campaign event that was being held in the backyard of a house in New Hampshire. “Katy Tur, you’re not paying attention!” the would-be Republican nominee said when he saw her typing into her phone as he was speaking to the crowd. Tur yelled back that she was tweeting out what he was saying. “He seemed to approve of that,” Tur recalls. She was just surprised he knew who she was.
That one-off assignment turned into a job that would change her life—following Trump for 510 days on the campaign trail. When she was on the press circuit for her first book, about covering the campaign, talk show hosts wanted to know what was up with Trump’s fixation with her. He routinely called her out, noticeably more often than other reporters, to either compliment or condemn her, depending on his mood. “It was the same on the campaign trail,” Tur tells me. “I was asked a lot about how I was able to deal with the whiplash between his criticism and his praise and just the erratic nature of his campaign personality.”
In late March, I Zoom with Tur from her office in New York City just after she finished taping her afternoon MSNBC news show, Katy Tur Reports, where amid reporting on the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and yet another wave of the pandemic, she’s still talking about Trump, anchoring a segment on the House Select Committee trying to piece together the seven-hour gap in the former president’s phone logs on the day of the Jan. 6 insurrection. “He’s still a major story because there was an attempt to overthrow democracy, and he might run again,” says Tur, who has also reported for a number of NBC platforms such as Today, Meet the Press, and Nightly News. “Trump is a story that lives on.”
He is also a towering character in Tur’s autobiography Rough Draft: A Memoir—available now. “This book isn’t supposed to exist,” she writes in the first line of the prologue, but a perfect storm of events led her to publish it. “Like a lot of people working from home during the pandemic, I felt stuck and found myself reassessing my life,” Tur says. “I was questioning my career.” It was during this time of burnout and boredom that Tur’s mother sent her a hard drive containing thousands of video tapes from Los Angeles News Service, the freelance broadcast company that her parents founded in the late seventies.
LANS became famous for being one of the first to report on everything from the attack on truck driver Reginald Denny at the 1992 L.A. riots to the police’s slow-speed chase of O.J. Simpson in 1994. LANS was also one of the first to broadcast Madonna’s 1985 wedding to Sean Penn where her parents were able to capture a shot of the bride giving him the finger. “Seeing my parents in action invigorated my own desire to get back in the newsroom,” Tur says. It also compelled her to document and air out the highs and lows of her own personal story.
From an early age, Tur was given the taste of excitement that came with her parents’ day job. “[They] would rip me out of bed and take me with them to cover an earthquake or a fire,” she writes in the book. “Malibu was always on fire.” She’d watch as one parent hung out the helicopter door to shoot video while the other flew and reported. Her parents’ professions gave her a front row seat to see police chases, natural disasters, and car accidents up close. “If someone was hurt on the side of the road, they would stop to help,” Tur says. “If they spied hikers who were stranded on the side of a mountain from their chopper, they would rescue them. They would do it as a service, and not even for a story.”
Tur was made to feel like a junior member of her parents’ news team and she loved the exhilaration of landing a story. As a teenager, she toyed with the idea of being a doctor, a lawyer, or even a Supreme Court justice, but broadcast journalism became cemented in her mind on Sept. 11, 2001. She was a couple of weeks into college at the University of California when she saw the terrorism attack on TV. The sight stirred a fervent desire in her to not only see news events with her own eyes, but to experience and share them.
As an up-and-coming reporter in New York who had a number of local news jobs under her belt, Tur captured the attention of then NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. In 2010, she was on a freelance assignment for The Weather Channel covering the Vancouver Summer Olympics and it so happened that her workstation was right beside the Nightly News desk. When she saw Williams walk by, Tur took a chance and tossed a couple of jokes his way. Not only did it break the ice, but the next time he saw her Williams asked what she was working on, and Tur was able to show him some of her footage. He was impressed enough to use some of her tape in his evening broadcast, which put her on a path to working for the network full-time.
Tur’s bold streak paid off again when in April 2013 she landed her first major breaking news story: the Boston Marathon bombing. She was eight months into her job at NBC News and in a meeting when, 10 minutes in, the social media producer gasped upon seeing the first reports of explosions via Twitter. As Williams darted off toward set, Tur also sprang up: “I can go. I’m going,” she asserted, without waiting for an answer. Cursing herself for not having a “go bag” under her desk (something she was told to do her first week on the job), she bought a sweatshirt at the airport and sprinted to make the flight. When the taxi dropped her off as close to the closed-off location as it could, she took off her heels and strode barefoot over cobblestones, past barricades, and over planters to make her way to the police barrier. “I made it to our live location—a couple of blocks from the finish line—with 10 minutes to spare [before going on the air],” she writes.
Her career accelerated when she was sent to report from the London bureau. What was supposed to be a 10-day stint turned into a much longer trip when she had to fly to Southeast Asia to cover Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. “I had four hours to catch the flight and landed 13 hours ahead of schedule of the local time in New York.” Almost immediately, she started reporting for Today. “Or was it Nightly News?” The frantic schedule clouding her memories. When the investigation for the lost plane turned to the Indian Ocean, Tur went to Perth, Australia. By November 2014, she was named a full-time foreign correspondent for NBC.
But if there’s one assignment that’s tested her mettle more than any other, it went by the name of Donald J. Trump. As Tur persistently called out his controversial positions and confronted him with facts during interviews on the campaign trail, she became something of a thorn in his side. She was also the first person to talk about the Access Hollywood tape on television after The Washington Post broke the story. The more she covered Trump, the more attention she received from him. Trump retaliated by regularly taunting her at rallies, referring to her as “Little Katy.” At one rally in South Carolina, he riled up the crowd against her, saying, “She’s back there—Katy Tur. Third rate reporter. Remember that.” “He also called me a liar,” Tur says dismissively.
By the time the next election cycle rolled around, Tur, who is married to CBS Mornings co-host Tony Dokoupil, started planning her family life on par with the political agenda. “I got pregnant around the midterms knowing that when I got back from maternity leave that the campaign would really start to pick up,” she says laughing. “I would come back in the fall and that’s when the narrowed-down debates would begin followed by the primaries, so I would still get the full scope of the campaign and not miss too much.”
But the drama arrived early and it was called the Mueller Report. As the country—and the world—waited on the Special Council’s conclusions on Russia’s possible interference in the 2016 election, Tur wanted in on this side of the election story that she had lived and breathed for so long. Even though her doctor had advised her to get induced at 39 weeks to avoid a C-section (not to mention how uncomfortable and ill she felt at the time), Tur entertained thoughts about holding off giving birth until the findings of the report were fully revealed. “I had covered the William Barr summary and wanted to cover the report itself—I knew it was coming out soon, but I didn’t know when,” she says. “I was hoping it was before I left for maternity leave but I wasn’t so lucky.”
The report was disclosed a couple of days after she gave birth (she ended up having to get a C-section anyway). “I was bleeding from the incision and could barely stand up straight. I had this five-day-old child in my arms; I was sweaty and leaking and on heavy doses of Motrin and Tylenol but I can remember texting the president of MSNBC and pleading with him to let me come in for one hour and cover the report,” she says, shaking her head at herself in amusement. “He texted back to tell me that I was crazy. But I really wanted to come in for just a day and be a part of that story.”
By the time Tur settled into her maternity leave, her attention turned to how most American women don’t have the “luxury” of paid time that she did to adjust to motherhood. On her first day back in the office after giving birth to her son Teddy, Tur delivered an impassioned on-air speech about the “shameful” lack of paid parental leave in the U.S. “I knew that I wanted to come back and say something about the time I had off,” she says. “Before that I understood the argument for parental leave, but in a more theoretical way. When I became a parent and got all that time and experience, I learned how to take care of a baby and realized how hard it was to recover mentally and physically.” Tur felt that the five months she had off shouldn’t just be a privilege afforded to the lucky few who happen to work for companies that offer paid leave. “That’s not fair,” she says.
In May 2021, Tur gave birth to her second child, a daughter named Eloise. She says that taking in all those LANS tapes—what she calls her legacy—it felt as if her own parents were saying, “Here Katy, here’s how we became famous American journalists—can you do the same?” Her response to that is “No fucking way.” But the adrenaline rush of being in the middle of a breaking news story not to mention the high of witnessing history in real time? “It’s why I do it for a living,” she says. “And I want to keep doing it again and again.”
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