The prologue of Katy Tur's Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History tells the story of the night Donald Trump became President Trump. Tur, defeated and sleep-deprived after a year and a half of covering the Trump campaign, recalls nearly shutting down mentally after learning that Trump planned to continue staging rallies after his victory.
"The Trump campaign was the most unlikely, exciting, ugly, trying, and all-around bizarre campaign in American history," she writes on the eve of his inauguration. "It roiled America and, with it, my little life. I won't pretend to explain it. I will tell you what I saw."
One year later, Tur will share her experience of the campaign in conversation with her husband, CBS News' Tony Dokoupil, at this year's Miami Book Fair.
Unbelievable is written in the style of a tell-all — except most of its readers will already be familiar with the book's most shocking moments from seeing them on the news. As the first national network reporter to cover the Trump campaign, Tur spent more than 500 days traveling the country with Trump while bearing his condescension in names like "Little Katy" and the vitriol of his supporters.
It is a tale of shock and disbelief, titling its chapters with Trump quotes such as "Katy Hasn't Even Looked Up Once at Me" and the infamous "Grab 'Em by the Pussy." A year deep in the Trump presidency, Americans now expect to be shocked by the president's behavior.
“It’s not my job to make sure everybody stays appalled or outraged," Tur tells New Times. "My job is more to shed a light, to contextualize, and to remind people that these aren’t normal situations that we’re in." She cautions Americans watching the daily happenings at the White House against compromising their standards of what is acceptable behavior from an American president amid a saturation of Trump's unsavory comments and acts.
"I don’t think it should ever, ever be acceptable for reporters to need armed guards when they cover political rallies," she says, an experience she lived after receiving numerous death threats from Trump supporters after he constantly singled her out as "dishonest" and a "third-rate reporter" (including at a Miami campaign rally).
Taking into account her experience of Trump's campaign, Tur grapples with how to remain vigilant now that he is president. “How do we learn to trust our leaders again?" she asks. "This predates Donald Trump, but Donald Trump has certainly exacerbated it because he often says things that are not true.” Fake news, Trump's favorite buzz phrase, means different things to different people.
“I think it’s one of the biggest threats we face to our society and to our democracy," Tur says. "I’m serious about it. We haven’t fully come to grips with how Russia was able to manipulate our election by manipulating messaging on social media. I think the question is, where does it go from there? How much worse does it get? How do we find a way to make sure that trusted news outlets are trusted again?"
Though Tur was not aware of the details of Russia-related activity, such as Paul Manafort's alleged massive money laundering during the campaign, “the flags for everybody were raised, and this includes the intelligence community,” she says.
"There were questions from the very beginning... Why was Donald Trump so friendly with Vladimir Putin? Why was he unwilling to say a negative thing about him, and why is he still unwilling to say a negative thing about him?" Tur cites a Trump news conference July 27, 2016, in Doral as an especially concerning instance of Trump's defense of Putin. When Tur pressed Trump on his call for Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s infamous 33,000 emails and asked if this endorsement gave him pause, he responded, "No, it doesn’t give me pause."
"Everyone’s red flags went up, their ears perked, and [they wondered], Why in the world is a presidential candidate encouraging a foreign government to meddle?”
According to Tur, the silver lining to Trump's disrespect of fact-based journalism is "a renaissance in political journalism." In an industry that has become accustomed to layoffs, Tur notes that outlets such as the Washington Post and MSNBC are actively hiring many new reporters and that subscriptions to publications such as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Herald, and the Chicago Tribune are way up across the nation.
"People want to know what’s happening. They’re turning on cable news more than they ever have," she says. "We have great ratings here at MSNBC; CNN has great ratings. Fox has decent ratings too," she laughs. "People are watching because they want to consume. They want to see what’s happening, and that’s a good thing. It can be a great thing going forward, but we need to be very vigilant as an industry," she says, calling for journalists to focus news attention on all regions of the country, to listen to the concerns of Americans outside liberal cities, and not to be too alarmist.
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Tur believes Trump's populism and rally culture can sustain him through a second term. "He wants to hear the roar of the crowd. "Yeah, he could do it," she says simply. "He wants the love in the room. He wants the approval he gets from a large, rowdy group of people. It validates him."
After her grueling 500-plus days on the campaign, Tur's book took over her life for eight months. Moving into the future of the Trump presidency, she hopes her book will reach "anyone and everyone."
"It's a good reminder of all the taboos that were broken, all of the lines that were crossed," she says, "and it’s a good reminder for people who want to say, 'There’s no way he can get reelected; this has all just been too much.' It’s a good reminder of what he survived in 2016.”
Journalist Katy Tur on the Campaign Trail. Part of Miami Book Fair. 4 p.m. Saturday, November 18, at Miami Dade College, Wolfson Campus, Chapman Conference Center, 300 NE Second Ave., Miami; miamibookfair.com. Tickets are free and can be reserved at miamibookfair.com.