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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

UNBELIEVABLE: MY FRONT-ROW SEAT TO THE CRAZIEST CAMPAIGN IN AMERICAN HISTORY

By Katy Tur


Dey Street Books, $26.99, 304 pages

Nearly one year has passed since the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, and journalists are still searching for answers as to how and why it happened.

NBC reporter Katy Tur’s new book, “Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History,” does not provide answers, but is heavy on observations about President Trump and his supporters.

The book evolved from essays Ms. Tur wrote on her reporting experience for Marie Claire magazine. This fact alone will give readers a hint of its depth and seriousness. The book’s narrative alternates between Election Day and numerous days on the campaign trail. The book’s opening line is “I’m about to throw up.” The significance of this revelation is not made clear and sets the tone for the rest of the book.

For more than 500 days, Ms. Tur covered the Trump campaign non-stop. She was recalled from London to cover the historic campaign. The book gives an inside look at the preparation of reporters for each day, and the competition among their own network colleagues for airtime. There is ample mention of struggles to make flights, less-than-perfect hotels, the toll the job takes on personal relationships and other gripes that are common to journalists and campaign aides. Ms. Tur also dishes on a number of journalists who are dating and others who are suspected of coupling up.

Most of the campaign reporting that appears in the book was previously reported by Ms. Tur and many other news outlets. That coverage was also recycled on the internet, mocked by late night talk show hosts and used to create memes by Mr. Trump’s supporters and opponents. The one original news nugget in the book, contained in its own chapter, is how Donald Trump kissed Katy Tur as he arrived for an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” She hoped and prayed that the act was not captured by the news cameras following Mr. Trump.

“Unbelievable” is at its weakest when it reveals the mentality of the news media. Her boss at NBC told Ms. Tur she would be covering the Trump campaign while walking to the elevator and said it would be a “six-week gig.” She also names a number of reporters who, on Election Day, were only writing stories that said Mr. Trump lost.

On the campaign trail, Ms. Tur and Mr. Trump had an antagonistic relationship. Mr. Trump would often refer to her as “Little Katy” She woke up late on the morning of her first sit-down interview with the candidate. She lets the reader know she had to walk six blocks to the interview “Jimmy Choos be damned.” During the interview, Mr. Trump rebuked Ms. Tur when she asked him if he was afraid of “pissing off world leaders with some of his language.” She rephrased the question to ask if Mr. Trump would be afraid of “angering some countries.”

Readers are frequently treated to Ms. Tur’s disdainful observations about Mr. Trump and his supporters. According to Ms. Tur, the main entrance of the Trump Tower is “campy.” At a high-dollar fundraising gala, she says she sees “a room of people nipped, tucked and sucked to their ideal of perfection.” At a New Hampshire rally, Mr. Trump was introduced by a young man in an “ill-fitting suit.” During a speech aboard the USS Yorktown she mentions that Mr. Trump cites a poll conducted by an organization identified as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The organization is not named and the “hate group” appellation is unsupported.

One of the most interesting chapters focuses on her parents, Bob and Marika Gerrard, the founders of Los Angeles News Service, which gathered news footage by helicopter, often scooping their competitors. Her father also filmed the famous slow-speed police chase of O.J. Simpson.

One cannot help but wonder whether or not the NBC brass read this book before it was published. It drips with contempt. Following their first interview, after she stumbled on some words, Mr. Trump told Katy Tur, “You’ll never be President.” She says she had to bite her tongue to keep from saying, “Neither will you.” In the epilogue, Ms. Tur notes that although Mr. Trump won the election, he “may or may not still be there by the time you read these words.”

Books like “Unbelievable” that are written by journalists — and there will surely be more — will serve as a political Rorschach test. Those who support Mr. Trump will say this type of book reveals the mentality of the media. Those who oppose the president will cite it as confirmation of salacious behavior. The sad part is, no one will learn anything about the political process, distrust of the media will harden and divisions in the electorate will deepen.

• Kevin P. McVicker is vice president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs in Alexandria, Virginia.


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