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Tur offers insightful account of covering Trump

NONFICTION

Unbelievable: My Front Row Seat to The Craziest Campaign In American History

By Katy Tur

Dey Street Books

291 Pages, $29.99

Katy Tur was the first national TV news reporter to cover Donald Trump's presidential campaign. She visited more than 40 states in 17 months and filed 3,800 live reports for NBC and MSNBC about his improbable campaign .

She was also frequently used as a prop for Trump's disdain for the media on Twitter and at campaign rallies.

" 'The mainstream media, these people back here, they're the worst. They are so dishonest,' " Tur quotes Trump one one of those occasions in her new book,  "Unbelievable." "And then I hear my name. 'She's back there, little Katy. She's back there.'

"They turn all at once, a large animal, angry and unchained," Tur writes. "I force a laugh. My face obeys. I throw in a wave for good measure. But inside I'm terrified. Men are standing on their chairs to get a look at me. They want to see me as they jeer."

Tur, who time and again exuded grace under fire while on-screen, wasn't rattled this time, either. But Secret Service agents walked her out when the rally concluded.

Months later, while covering Trump at his Scotland golf course, far away from his rapid followers, Trump introduces Tur to business partners. "This is Katy Tur. She is a great reporter," he says. Seeing Tur's shocked expression, Trump adds, "sometimes."

"Unbelievable" is an insightful page-turner of the most un-presidential president ever and his campaign for the White House. Tur proves to be as good a writer as she is a political reporter. Her writing is sharp, her sentences short and crisp, her humor, through it all, intact.

Forced to trudge through snowy streets with a suitcase, Tur writes, "My bag is not a bag anymore, it's a child throwing a tantrum."

"Over the weekend Trump lost Maine and Kansas to Ted Cruz," she says. "The professional prognosticators have rubbed those two sticks together to make a fire."

Seeing a sea of "Make America Great Again" hats at a rally in Melbourne, Fla., Tur observes, "Today, the effect is like red sprinkles atop a great melting mass of vanilla ice cream."

Or this description of another crowd as Trump takes the stage: "The room shakes alive, roars as one."

Tur also can't resist having some fun at the candidate's expense: As Trump  flounders in Michigan, she writes, "The polls look hopeless. (Sad!)"

When the book begins, Tur is in London as an NBC news correspondent. She's living in a loft with a handsome Frenchman she met on Tinder. (Tur's former boyfriend, Keith Olbermann, also has a new political book out, "Trump is F*cking Crazy (This is Not a Joke"). But Tur can't turn down the chance to cover Trump for what's expected to be a six-week assignment.

The strain of non-stop coverage and the personal toll it takes are recounted. So is the competition between the network's "Road Warriors" team -- Hallie Jackson, Tur, Kristen Welker and Kasie Hunt.

"Your colleagues are trying to steal your beat. It's nothing personal. It's just the way news works," Tur writes. "Everyone wants to be on the leading horse -- never more so than when the leading horse is kicking, spitting and bucking its way to the finish line."

The pressure of constantly going live on air -- often on information digested minutes before -- is intense. So is trying to look refreshed and put together as the camera shines its lens for millions to see. Here's Tur's description of applying makeup in a small public restroom: "The vanity mirrors were not glass but a thin sheet of metal on a cinder block wall. The aesthetic could only be described as Soviet. Fitting."

Tur shares her bird's eye view of Trump's supporters, from the 1 percent besotted in jewels at Mar-a-Lago to the people she sees at rallies they bare little resemblance to. She is the first reporter at NBC to be shown the "Access Hollywood" tape, and watches, dumbfoundedly, as Trump's supporters aren't fazed.

And as the outrages pile up, she tries to put them in perspective.

"Every day on the campaign trail Trump's actions test the definition of normal," Tur writes. "He calls for jailing his  opponent. He openly admonishes sitting generals. He singles out minority groups for blanket condemnation. He goes after the spouses of his rivals. He questions the integrity of the election itself. He is endlessly hostile toward the media. All of this Trump does so often that it's a struggle to remember what's old news, by the standard of his behavior, and what is big news, by the standard of history."

Along the way, Tur reveals her parents were a husband-and-wife reporting team that were the first to use helicopters to follow car chases, including the Ford Bronco with OJ inside.

"Today their former colleagues blame them with the downfall of local TV news," Tur writes. "Some would say the downfall of national TV news, too. They don't dispute it. I don't either."

Tur went to college to be a doctor or lawyer when she unexpectedly found herself drawn to journalism. "I didn't want to go to school for three more years,:" she wrote. "I wanted to chase the news."

Little did she know she'd be following the successful candidacy of the first person without political or military experience to win the White House.

She displays a hard-won sense of humor and sense of the absurd throughout, like when Trump called a news conference to put his role as a birther to rest.

" 'Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy,' " he said, although she did not," Tur writes. " 'I finished it,' he said, although he did not. 'You know what I mean,' although we did not. And then he finally said it: 'President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period."

"Seven seconds. Second measly seconds. That's how long it took Trump to dismiss a lie he told for five years," Tur writes. When a stage collapses a couple of minutes after Trump leaves it, she adds, "Reality could no longer support itself."

Wanting a more normal life, Tur, 33, took herself out of the running to be chief White House correspondent; that assignment went to Jackson. She still covers Trump and hosts a show on MSNBC. She's getting married.

Tur is left wondering, like so many, what Trump's ascension means for the United States, and where the country goes from here.

"I've heard him insult a war hero, brag about grabbing women by the (expletive), denigrate the judicial system, demonize immigrants, fight with the pope, doubt the democratic process, advocate torture and war crimes, tout the size of his junk in a presidential debate, trash the media and indirectly endanger my life," she writes.

"I've learned that none of this matters to an Electoral College majority of American voters. They've decided that this menacing, indecent, post-truth landscape is where they want to live for the next four years."

With "Unbelievable," Tur offers a perceptive, entertaining and, yes, disturbing ringside account of history, both for today and for posterity's sake.

Mark Sommer is a veteran News Reporter.

 

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