About the Book by TV Journalist Katy Tur titled “Rough Draft”

From a review in the New York Times by Joanna Coles of the book by Katy Tur titled “Rough Draft”:

It’s little wonder that Katy Tur is one of America’s top TV journalists, given that her parents were obsessive reporters. On their first date, they went looking for a serial killer who was targeting homeless people in Los Angeles. They didn’t find him, but they found a shared passion for chasing news that they passed on to their daughter, who was practicing pieces for the camera from age 4.

The Turs were also, quite literally, helicopter parents. As Tur’s classmates skipped out of school, perhaps to swimming or ballet, Tur would be strapped into the back seat of her parents’ Los Angeles News Service chopper, where they would spend afternoons flying low over the lid of Los Angeles hunting for news.

If you saw the O.J. Simpson police chase in 1994, that was their footage. It’s Tur family footage you still see replayed of the Los Angeles riots of 1992; Tur’s mom, Marika Tur, shot it, hanging from her harness out the chopper door with a 40-pound camera strapped to her right shoulder as she tried to move as close as she could. Oh, and Madonna and Sean Penn’s cliff-side wedding in 1985? That was courtesy of Tur’s dad, well known at the time as Bob Tur, who buzzed the ceremony at 150 feet and was rewarded with footage of the singer flipping him the bird in her wedding dress.

If you didn’t read “Unbelievable,” Katy Tur’s first book, it was a riveting account of her own obsessive chase of Donald J. Trump on the campaign trail, and it remains one of the best accounts of the 2016 election. Tur, then in her early 30s, spent 510 exhausting days on the road for NBC News pursuing Trump and quickly realized — contrary to the opinion of her newsroom and the assumptions of the mainstream media — that he absolutely could win. By frequently singling her out at his rallies, sometimes favorably, sometimes not, Trump also made Tur famous, to the point that she needed security and, after the election, secured her own show, “Katy Tur Reports,” on MSNBC.

“I almost felt like there was a strange connection between yourself and Donald Trump,” Trevor Noah observed when Tur went on his “Daily Show” to promote the book. “Did you feel it?”

“Yeah, I felt it,” she writes in “Rough Draft,” her second, equally compelling memoir, in which her father replaces Trump as the central theme, “but I dodged the question because the answer would have only raised more questions.”

Before the campaign, she writes, she had “barely followed Trump’s career,” but on the trail, she “felt a deep familiarity. It was like I already knew him.” She later explains: “My father is not Donald Trump and Donald Trump is not my father. But if anyone asked me, I’d recommend the same therapist.”

As Tur unpacks the family laundry, it turns out that her father is every bit as complicated a parent as Trump was a candidate: narcissistic, grandiose, vain, lurching noisily from success to failure (initially a smash hit throwing off cash, L.A. News spawned a series of copycats and went out of business), pursuing lawsuits left and right and teetering on financial ruin. Her father is a hand grenade, always about to explode, saying at one point to Marika, “I don’t know how to communicate with you except through violence.” Tur’s father hits her mother repeatedly, regularly whacks the children with a belt and kicks the aging family dog, which he makes sleep outside until she is eaten by coyotes. To outsiders, Tur’s dad is charming and wildly charismatic, running for mayor of Los Angeles, developing an “almost canine instinct” for TV journalism and, above all, teaching Tur how to crush her rivals. When Tur feels the urge to push a little harder, she writes, “it’s not usually my competition or my colleagues that I have in mind. It’s my father. Not that I’d endorse all his methods.”

As L.A. News falls apart, Marika flees her husband’s violent behavior, and the Tur family falls apart, too. But the father remains Tur’s unresolved business, cropping up to demand she pay the phone bill and unloading fresh drama when she least expects it. As when she’s covering the Boston bombing:

“Do you have a minute? Are you alone? Are you sitting down?”
Yes, Dad, I thought. What is it now?
“Well, I have some big news,” my dad said.
I took another bite of my cheeseburger, then nearly choked to death.
“I’ve decided to become a woman.”

Bob becomes Hannah, then settles on the name Zoey. Regarding her past violence against her wife and children, she blames the feeling of being trapped by a macho news identity.

Despite Tur’s efforts to understand, and Zoey’s self-appointed role as an erratic spokeswoman for the L.G.B.T.Q. community, the transition doesn’t help their relationship, and neither do Zoey’s strangely retrograde comments. “I’m already a worse driver,” Zoey claims, after starting hormones. But it’s Zoey’s demanding that Tur exonerate Bob that sticks in both Tur’s and the reader’s craw. “We need to talk about the violence,” Tur says on one call, trying to confront Zoey’s past. She writes, “It felt like my dad was using a get-out-of-gender-free card I didn’t know existed.”

“I already feel different,” Zoey replies. “My female brain is getting softer and more emotional. I’m filled with calm and love.” Eventually, Zoey says, “Bob Tur is dead.”

“The stuff Bob Tur did isn’t dead,” Katy Tur tries to explain. “You yelled. You hit. You caused pain.”

“Who did I hit?”

“All of us,” she says. “You even kicked the dog.” But Zoey denies it even harder.

As Tur’s fame grows, Zoey worsens her attacks against her daughter, telling media outlets she is transphobic and unsupportive because, Zoey says, supporting the L.G.B.T.Q. community would “hurt her career.” By Tur’s telling, none of this appears to be true; in fact, she seems patient, given Zoey’s provocations. She’s careful in using Zoey’s name and the pronoun “her” from the moment Zoey calls her to discuss her transition, while continuing to consider her a father (“I’m still Dad,” Zoey affirms).

Bar the occasional text, the two are now estranged.

Like the Trump campaign, it’s a hell of a story — and I haven’t even mentioned the police report that the commentator Ben Shapiro filed after Zoey grabbed his neck and threatened him on “Dr. Drew on Call.” But Tur handles her family drama so wryly that you’re in safe hands; it never veers into melodrama. And when she meets and then marries the “CBS Mornings” co-anchor Tony Dokoupil — with whom she bonds over his own complicated father, an illegal drug entrepreneur — you want to cheer.

Tur is especially on point at discussing the competing forces of career and motherhood. Conscious that she eschewed a personal life while on the campaign trail, she’s startlingly frank about her need for a partner who wants children and about timing her first pregnancy so she can cover the 2020 election afterward. She’s also honest about her fear of being forgotten at work, which is so extreme that she texts her boss demanding to go back to broadcasting five days after her first child is born. (He refuses, so she takes the full parental leave and returns to the anchor chair with no discernible damage to her career.)

And despite a second memoir just shy of 40, she seems low-maintenance for a TV anchor. With her sharp eye and intelligence, she seems wasted behind that damned desk. Her Trump coverage was eerily prescient, but because the political pundits at NBC didn’t take Trump seriously, they forced Tur to second-guess herself. Schooled as a toddler from the helicopter, she’s exactly the reporter you want out in the field doing special reports, not seated behind a desk at 2 p.m.

Just like her parents, Tur is an obsessive news junkie. In college, she took one of her own first dates to a news event: a dangerous wildfire, where she brazened her way through a patrol with a fake news ID that her father had made for her. “I can thank my father for training me, shaping me as a reporter and broadcaster,” she writes. “I can hate her for hitting me, slapping me, chasing me, hurting my mother and brother, kicking my dog and burning down our lives.” But for a writer, as Nora Ephron’s mother used to say, everything is copy. So Tur can also thank Zoey for enough material to guarantee her next best seller.

Joanna Coles is the executive producer of “The Bold Type,” the author of “Love Rules,” a director of Snapchat and former chief content officer of Hearst Magazines.

Speak Your Mind