Katy Tur Dishes On Her Front-Row Seat To Donald Trump's Unbelievable Campaign

Photo courtesy of Harper Collins.
NBC correspondent Katy Tur covered Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign from the very beginning, when no one thought he would make it through the primaries, much less all the way to the White House. Her new book Unbelievable, released today, offers a glimpse at what the campaign trail was like for a reporter Trump continuously called out in public (who can forget the time he infuriatingly referred to her as "Little Katy"?).
As she explains in the book, Tur, 33, never planned to follow Trump around for months on end. She hit the trail as a campaign reporter during a break from her regular post as a London-based correspondent. But that six-week assignment on the trail turned into more than 500 days. And her stint in political reporting still hasn't ended.
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Tur spoke with Refinery29 over the phone a few days before her book came out, explaining how she felt when Trump singled her out in front of a crowd of angry supporters, what the Access Hollywood tape proved about his dedicated base, and how she views Ivanka Trump.
What aspects of covering Trump were you least expecting or prepared for when the campaign began?
"I wasn’t prepared for the amount of times I needed to factcheck him. His rallies were littered with inconsistencies, or reversals, or half-truths, or sometimes lies. It was hard for me to understand why the people who supported him refused to acknowledge at times that he was not telling the truth."
That hasn’t changed on Trump’s end, but do you think his supporters are still in that same mindset?
"He has a strong, devoted base of support. Polls can be very misleading, because there is some degree of people feeling ashamed of their support for him, so they don’t want to publicly talk about it. But also, his candidacy was declared dead so many times that I can’t count. At the end of last year, in October of 2016, the Access Hollywood tape came out. Fifty Republican lawmakers said that he should drop out or that they wouldn’t vote for him. That is unbelievable. And a few weeks later, they either did vote for him, or they bit their tongue and they stopped criticising him in the same way. If you are somebody who doesn’t support Donald Trump, and you want to tell yourself that this is going to end soon — [that] there’s going to be some magic headline that’s going to mean that Republicans all stop supporting him, or he gets impeached, or resigns, or [special counsel] Robert Mueller will find a way to end it — I think that you are missing a very big piece of history. He’s survived a lot more, so you shouldn’t discount the enthusiasm that he holds."
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Speaking of the Access Hollywood tape, were you surprised that more than half of white women voted for Trump even after that came out?
"Supporters of his, whoever they were, found a way to justify or explain or ignore his behaviour because they still believed in him. So in that way, I’m not surprised."
What were your thoughts when you first heard the tape?
"It was trains crashing, sirens flashing, and symbols clashing. I could not believe my ears. I have known a lot of men in my life, I have heard a lot of crass language thrown back and forth, but I have never heard somebody on a bus brag about grabbing women by the 'P-word.' I thought, Holy cow (I may have said some other words) How is he going to survive this?"
And then he did survive it.
"He did survive it. And Steve Bannon today is calling that a litmus test for the support that he had in the campaign. And you know what? For Donald Trump, it was a litmus test. And it was a litmus test for many of his supporters. [They] stayed with him. The Republican Party did not stay with him. And so when you see him breaking from the Republican Party, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Access Hollywood tape flutters to his mind."
Lindy West wrote a pretty scathing op-ed for The New York Times about Ivanka, urging people who don’t agree with the administration to stop expecting her to come through for them. Since you followed Trump for so long, do you think Ivanka has any real influence over the president?
"I think she has some influence over him, I don’t think she has as much as some people might have hoped she had. And I point to an experience that we had on the trail, which was when they fired [Trump campaign manager] Corey Lewandowski. My sources were telling me that the kids had been trying to do that for months, that Ivanka didn’t like Corey Lewandowski specifically for a number of reasons, and one of them was what happened with Michelle Fields [the former Breitbart News reporter who said Lewandowski grabbed her at a rally]. But even with that, even with Ivanka’s distaste or disdain for him or feeling that it was inappropriate for the campaign, and the other kids, he still remained on for many months after that. So that shows you how much influence they have. It took a while to convince their dad."
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A major moment in your coverage was when Trump called you "Little Katy" and it caught the nation's attention. What were you thinking when that happened?
"I was used to it by that point. Although that was the first time most people in the country noticed it, he had been calling me out on stages since the very beginning. Some of the time it was playful or joking, and other times it was angry. And this was one of those angry times. The crowd that was there was really riled up. It felt like a kinder box, like somebody was going to light a match. When he called me out, I thought, Oh my god he’s pointing me out. And these bicycle racks don’t look all that strong... I smiled and I waved because I find that smiling and waving mitigates the tension; it diffuses the situation. I knew that there were going to be people waiting around to scream at me."
In the book, you used some colourful language to describe Trump. Were there times you wished you could yell things back at him instead of just smiling and waving?
"No, I don’t wish I could yell anything at him, because I’m a professional and I know how to do my job."
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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