Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History
By Katy Tur
Dey St. An imprint of William Morrow
In June of 2015, Katy Tur was living an incredible life. She was NBC News’ correspondent in London, spending weekends in France with her beau Beniot, and received an invitation from Make-A-Wish to come back to the United States.
While here, a certain man announced he was running for president in New York City in a building bearing his name, Trump Tower.
Donald Trump announced his run for President, and NBC News was set to put Tur on the beat.
Tur writes, “Five days into my New York trip, while I was running an errand, I got a call from a friend at work.
“‘Hey Katy. Heads up,” the friend said. ‘Deborah Turness [my boss] is going to assign you to Trump full-time. [David, another boss] Verdi is going to call. If you don’t want to do this, you better figure out what you’re going to say to get out of it. Don’t let on that I told you, but get ready.’
“Anxiety. Indecision. Italy.
“My vacation with Benoit is in just over a week. On the other hand, as good as life can be in Europe, there’s also a lot of professional boredom. It would be nice to get some TV time. And New York is unbelievable in the summer.
“I hung up and paced the sidewalk. Then I called a friend from CBS.
“‘They want me to cover Trump full-time,’ I told him. My friend had covered Romney in 2012. ‘What do I do?’
“He laughed. The whole thing was ridiculous: me following Trump, me on the trail, Trump running for president. Still he urged me to do it.
“‘It will be fun,’ he said, ‘and if you hate it, at least it will be short.’
Tur does her first one-on-one interview with Trump within days, and though it went well (he even wanted a picture with her before it began), the mood suddenly turned.
She writes, “Twenty-nine minutes later, I’ve asked all my prepared questions, and I’m surprised he hasn’t stopped me yet. Does he really want to keep talking? I can’t tell. But I think I’ve got plenty for the producers to work with, so after he’s finished answering my last question, I say, ‘Thank you.’
“We shake hands and it’s over.
“My muscles start to relax.
“That went okay.
“Wait. Did it?
“Suddenly, Trump is yelling at me.
“‘You better air that interview in full!’ he says. ‘You’re going to edit it. Deceptive editing. I know what you guys do. Deceptive editing!’
“What is he talking about? Didn’t we just shake hands? Did I do something wrong?
“‘It’s not up to me how much of the interview gets used,’ I say, ‘but I know that we won’t deceptively edit you.’
“He isn’t convinced. ‘If you don’t, he says, ‘We have cameras in here; we’ll release the full footage!’
“The threat is weird. How would he get the audio of the interview, for one thing, and where are the cameras? I look up and I don’t see any, unless he means the security footage. More important, why would that threat scare me?
“‘You stumbled three times,’ he says.
“He says it as if I killed a puppy.
“It doesn’t matter if I stumble. I’m not running for president,’ I say.
“What’s with the hostility?
“He looks me straight in the eye and lands what he must think is the harshest insult of all: ‘You’ll never be president!’
Neither will you.
“Thankfully, I bite my tongue before the words are out.”
Tur then writes that she meets the campaign manager after it, and her description of Corey Lewandowski is one of many examples of her bias against Trump and his team.
“A small, skinny man with a buzz cut is walking over.
“I offer my hand. He shakes it, quickly.
“‘Mr. Trump is very upset,’ he says in a high-pitched voice. I try to make sense of him.
“How much do I need to care about this guy?
“He looks like a sad salesman wearing his father’s suit. He fidgets. He bites his nails. His eyes dart. They don’t settle on me. He tells me I am unprofessional.
“This is Trump’s campaign manager? Did I hear Hope correctly? Why haven’t I heard his name?
“I smile and try to diffuse the tension. We should get a drink, I tell him. It would be great to hear what the campaign strategy is. (It’s what you do, friends who’ve covered campaigns tell me. ‘Drink to befriend.’) I’m still unclear on his job but I take his number and put it in my phone: ‘Corey Lewandowski – Campaign Manager??'”
A problem with this book is the voice is contradictory. On the one hand, she’s taking on Trump, tough as nails, but then she turns on a dime into little old me, in awe of her NBC colleagues.
Here, Tur writes about another interview with Trump and then going on with Chuck Todd, “So when Trump blitzes, I sidestep. When he mocks, I smile. And when he gets angry, I assume he’ll cool off. I get it: He’s TV. This is his soundstage. I’m a part of his act.
“I try to make small talk at the end of the interview, but Trump shrugs and then complains to my crew: ‘It’s too bad that she only mentions the negatives. You don’t want to mention all the positives.’
“‘Wait!’ I say. I tell him I have one more question.
“He demands to know what the question is before he’ll agree.
“I want to know why you think voters like you so much,’ I say, ‘and why you’re getting such big crowds.’
“‘That question I can handle,’ he says to the crew’s laughter. He puts his mic back on. ‘Because I tell the truth.’ Jeb and Hillary,’ he adds, ‘will never take us to the promised land.’
“I’m on TV again, this time live. I’m reacting with Chuck Todd. Intimidating. Chuck is the moderator of Meet the Press, the most notable and storied public affairs show in history, and Chuck is talking to me the least notable and storied political journalist at NBC.”
Tur writes of Andrea Mitchell getting to report on Trump’s travel ban in 2015 instead of her, “Walking along the gangplank to the warship, I call Nightly News. In the craziness, I hadn’t had time to check in. But it doesn’t matter. They don’t want me in the broadcast that night. Apparently, Andrea Mitchell is going to handle the spot from Washington. She has the foreign policy chops, after all, and I’m just the asshole at the venue who’s been following this guy for six goddamn months.
“I don’t blame them for wanting Andrea. I’d want her in this situation. No matter how good I may think I am, the bosses will go to experience first. When it comes to policy and its international effects, Andrea is the queen. She’s dedicated decades of her life to it.
“But a wave of frustration crashes through me. Washington’s reaction isn’t the whole story. I’m on the ground. I know Trump. I know his base. They may need Andrea, but they need this perspective, too.”
One thing about this story that is very unique is how Trump called out Tur by name at rallies and his supporters booed her, making her the enemy.
Tur writes of this time in late 2015, “My ‘six-week assignment’ is now four months of ever-deepening weirdness between Trump and me. After the ‘you’ll never be president’ episode, he’s jogged between beating me up and buttering me up.
“He told a rally in Norcross, Georgia, last month that I was ‘better’ than most reporters. Seven days earlier in Franklin, Tennessee, he tried to introduce me to a crowd of hundreds of his cheering supporters, a hand on my shoulder like I was his wife. I spun from his grasp and walk away.
“Then he was angry again. On my birthday, a couple of weeks ago, he singled me out in front of a rally in Atkinson, New Hampshire, saying that NBC reporter he won’t name is terrible. Katy whatever her name, she’s awful. Katy Tur is the worst.
“He exaggerated the size of his crowds. I corrected him. He said he was self-financing his campaign. In fact, he was spending more of his donors’ money than his own. He got booed at the Values Voter Summit in D.C. I asked him to respond.
“‘I didn’t get boos,’ Trump told me as my camerawoman and I trotted backward trying to keep him in frame. ‘I got cheers.’
“Then he pointed at me: ‘I got boos for YOU!’
“If Trump keeps dominating the polls, I’ll have another year of this whiplash. Everyone back in New York and Washington seems to think Trump’s days are numbered.
“A big part of this country is already against him, they say, and now it’s fall. The silly season is over. People are starting to get serious. They’re paying attention. Football is back. Homeland is on. For heaven’s sake, the Iowa caucuses are three months away! There’s no way he’ll make it.
“But I don’t see his demise so clearly.”
The interesting thing here is that while she hopes it’s not true, and that Trump will flame out, she saw that there was something here not to be dismissed.
Tur writes of Trump doing a post-midnight rally in Michigan the night before the election, “It’s a Monday night – well, Tuesday morning, technically. Trump could’ve ended the campaign a few hours ago in Manchester, New Hampshire, not here. It would have been a nice bit of symmetry: his big farewell on the site of his first big win. There were a lot more people there, too, and the advance staff arranged for a laser light show and smoke machines. It was like a rave where red MAGA hats replaced glow sticks.
“But Trump needed to press on. We’re here in Michigan because he needs a miracle. The polls look hopeless. (Sad!) So his team is throwing a Hail Mary in the upper Midwest. They think if any part of the so-called Democratic blue wall is going to crumble, Michigan is going to be the first crack.”
The fact that she mocked Trump for the Michigan rally falls flat for the simple fact that he won the state. She kind of backtracks and says it was good strategy in their quest to win Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin, which he did. The fact that he went there so late the night before the election was emblematic of the fact that he worked harder to win that state than Hillary Clinton.
This is a very detailed account of what Tur experienced on the campaign trail, and for that she should be applauded. It could certainly go on any political bookshelf with the landmark The Boys on the Bus on the 1972 campaign.
However, in the here and now, this is strange for a journalist, not a commentator such as her colleague Rachel Maddow, to write a book like this. She all but admits she hoped a candidate would lose and admitted she was “about to throw up” on election night.
In a way, she confirms what Trump and his supporters think of the “mainstream media,” that they are against him and them. It reads like a book someone would write at the end of their careers, not the start of their prominence.