Review | NBC’s Katy Tur took abuse from Trump; it reminded her of her childhood

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Katy Tur, an MSNBC anchor, gained prominence as a reporter during the 2016 presidential campaign, when Donald Trump plucked her from obscurity to taunt her at rallies as “little Katy,” a “third-rate reporter,” an exemplar of the media he despised. Tur withstood repeated abuse with remarkable aplomb, won a major journalism award and detailed her experience in a best-selling campaign memoir, “Unbelievable.”

Now, in a second memoir, “Rough Draft,” Tur makes clear why she was especially well equipped for that bruising experience.

She was raised in Los Angeles by parents who were pathbreaking journalists and prepared her for a thrilling life of chasing news. But Bob Tur — who came out as transgender in 2013 and became a woman, Zoey — was also a volatile, sometimes violent father who subjected their family to fits of rage and abuse, Katie Tur writes.

This is a case study in the blessings and curse of family legacy, a vivid account of how one woman’s inheritance propelled her from a tumultuous childhood to a high-profile perch in television journalism.

“I can thank my father for training me, pushing me, shaping me as a reporter and broadcaster,” writes Tur. “I can hate her for hitting me, slapping me, chasing me, hurting my mother and brother, kicking my dog, and burning down our lives.”

It is odd for a person under 40 to have already written two memoirs, but Tur has the humility to call this a “Rough Draft” of an autobiography. It is more provocative than Tur’s first book, about covering Trump, a conventional campaign memoir. “Rough Draft” is a painful read in many parts, laced with humor in others, embellished with reflections on journalism.

There is overlap with Tur’s campaign book, and Trump is still a central figure. But here he is a doppelganger for her bullying father.

“I’d dealt with this kind of behavior before,” she writes of Trump. “This insistence on attention. This love of coverage and publicity, no matter how good or bad. This obsession with respect and tolerance for fighting and feuding. … I’d seen it all before in my own family.”

Tur’s father and mother, Marika Gerrard, became famous in the 1980s and 1990s for pioneering live helicopter coverage of major news events. Founders of the Los Angeles News Service, they scored such scoops as live aerial coverage of the O.J. Simpson car chase, the mob attack on truck driver Reginald Denny in the 1992 riots and Madonna’s secret marriage to Sean Penn.

Their business eventually fell apart, and Tur says it was because of one thing: her father’s anger. The marriage also ended, and Tur learned of their divorce the day she graduated from college.

She left Los Angeles in her early 20s and took her rookie journalism skills to New York. She lived with Keith Olbermann, an MSNBC star almost 25 years her senior. “I became, in tabloid-speak, the bimbo,” she writes, bluntly acknowledging that she paid a professional price for the relationship. Long after they broke up, now married to CBS correspondent Tony Dokoupil and the mother of two children, Tur says that even today detractors bring up her erstwhile celebrity boyfriend to diminish her achievements.

She chronicles her career ascent through some unglamorous jobs, at the Weather Channel and in New York local news, before making it to NBC and then landing in London as a foreign correspondent.

That dream job was interrupted when in 2015 she was temporarily assigned to cover the Trump campaign, which then was considered a doomed enterprise. But it turned into a full-time job, a year-and-a-half endurance test.

“My ability to stick with the Trump beat, to stay on the job — fending off competition and fatigue and buckets of abuse, to hang around long enough to watch the country change, and with it my little life — all of it goes back to my father,” she writes.

After Trump’s surprising victory, Tur was not assigned to the White House — a common destination for reporters who covered a winning candidate. She remained in New York, and 2017 was a banner year. She was assigned to anchor an afternoon show on MSNBC. Her book about Trump was a huge success. She got married to Dokoupil, and had their first child in 2019, their second in 2021.

As she rose in journalism, so too did tensions with her father, who told her in announcing his plan to become a woman, “It’s why I’ve been so angry.” Tur says she supported her father’s transition but was unwilling to accept it as a way to erase responsibility for the past. In the following years, her father told interviewers that they were estranged because she could not accept his transition. Tur denies that, detailing in this book how she was estranged because Zoey Tur refused to discuss and address the violence and abuse Bob Tur had inflicted on their family.

“My father wanted to throw the past into the abyss and let it sink while I needed to dig it up and lay it out for discussion,” she writes. “There was simply no getting past this difference, though we both tried.”

Tur’s memoir includes reflections on the flaws of contemporary journalism — such as cable’s contribution to the polarization of politics — but with no grand ideas for fixing it. In a takedown of Walter Cronkite’s hero status, she argues that the reverence for great newscasters of the past is overdone, and she makes a decent case that today’s craft is “more accountable” because it is open to instantaneous feedback.

Exploring the challenges of women in journalism, she dives deep into the special anxiety of new mothers. She worried about losing her “edge” and her job while on maternity leave. She admits her impatience during her newborn’s first pediatrician visit, antsy to get out because the office was a cell-service dead zone. The panic of her first day back at work will ring true to any working mom.

The book’s appeal may not reach far beyond her fans, but Tur has many and they will enjoy this fast-paced tale. Two important people in her audience are her parents: Tur includes special praise for her mother’s underappreciated role in the family business; she expresses hope that the book will “open a door, start a new chapter” between herself and her father.

“No one can choose the gifts of their childhood. But everyone can work to reject its worst lessons,” she writes.

Janet Hook has covered national politics for the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Atria/One Signal. 272 pp. $28.

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