High Flyer: Katy Tur Writes a Deeply Personal Memoir

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Katy Tur spins a helluva tale. In Rough Draft: A Memoir, the MSNBC news anchor tells the story of an incredible childhood, first strapped into a baby seat in the back of her parents’ news helicopter, covering breaking news.

Often ripped out of bed in the middle of the night, she and younger brother James rode along with Bob and Marika Tur as they patrolled the skies over Los Angeles. It was the Turs’ Los Angeles News Service (LANS) that shot the now familiar footage of O. J. Simpson’s white Bronco ride. Bob Tur piloted and reported while Marika hung as far out as she could, shooting video with a forty-pound camera strapped to her shoulder.

Those were the successful years of LANS. Asked by visitors to the aircraft hanger what his news service did, Bob Tur would reply, “We scoop the competition.” The service had its heyday in the 1980s and 90s. The Turs filmed the 1992 Los Angeles riots, covered stories like the savage beating of Reginald Denny, and caught the finger from Madonna when they buzzed her cliffside wedding to Sean Penn. They prospered, with Katy’s Grandma Judy selling LANS coverage to national news outlets.

The Turs lived high (two Porsches, a swimming pool, private schooling), but by 1998 it all fell apart. Katy blames her dad’s anger. She writes, “I once tried to make a list of the many things my dad threw at my mom in a fit of rage. It included keys, plates, batteries, cell phones, two-way radio and flight helmets.” Katy and James weren’t spared. Bob Tur used his belt as punishment, striking their bare skin. “You made him mad; you got the belt.”

Marika finally had enough of the violence. She put down her camera and left. Katy says she knew something was wrong when her parents showed up at her college graduation but sat apart. After the Turs divorced, Katy moved in with her dad as his caretaker, listening to stories of Bob’s gender identity crisis.

Tiring of it all, she quit her reporting job at KTLA, got on a plane and moved to New York to bunk with an acquaintance, Countdown’s Keith Olbermann. Katy’s youthful training and spunk led to her rise in the field, to an assignment covering the Trump campaign and to earning a 2017 Walter Cronkite Award for “courage under pressure.”

Katy’s new memoir follows her first book — Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History. That 2017 book was an account of the 510 days she spent reporting on Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency. Writing in Rough Draft, Katy sees parallels between Trump and the dad who shocked his daughter by announcing a decision to come out as a woman. No longer Bob Tur, but Zoey. Despite Katy’s careful use of “she/her” pronouns, Zoey accuses her of homophobia. The two central figures in Katy’s books are narcissistic, grandiose, and vain. As she writes, “My father is not Donald Trump… but if anyone asks, I’d recommend the same therapist.”

Katy has written a real you-are-there page-turner. As she advises: “Always keep a to-go bag under your desk.” She’s done a heap of living in just shy of 40 years. She now anchors a weekday MSNBC show from 2-3 p.m. EST. After her marriage to fellow TV broadcaster Tony Dokoupil, she acquired two stepchildren and gave birth to Teddy Bear and Eloise Bear. (All Turs have “bear” for a middle name.) Although she wishes things were better, she reports that her dad Zoey Tur has yet to meet those grandchildren.

Where I most related to Katy Tur was in her asides about the value of journalism in our lives. As she points out, “journalism can’t cure us; journalism can’t save us.” She also reflects on the intersection of journalism and motherhood. She observes that “journalism is the worst job on the planet like motherhood is the worst job on the planet.”

When embarking on the network’s five-month maternity leave, Katy begs to show up, only days after Caesarean delivery, for just one more weekend in the anchor’s chair. She suffers agonizing doubts about her identity. Who was she: a mom or a journalist? She worries about her job, her profession, and especially about “the rage that used to be everyday politics.”

In an epilogue, Katy comes to partial terms with her internal conflict. She remembers that inside she’s still the girl who one night bunked in a sleazy motel with a knife under her pillow and her back to the wall after she got stranded after a Trump rally. As she says, “our lives are one long rough draft and none of us will know how we’ve done until many years from now.”

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Jean Godden wrote columns first for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and later for the Seattle Times. In 2003, she quit to run for Seattle City Council where she served 12 years. She now writes for Westside Seattle and has been a co-host on The Bridge, aired on community radio station KMGP. You can email tips and comments to Jean at jgodden@blarg.net.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Good reporter, not a whack job as some are/were on MSNBC. Chris Mathews had a bit to do with her early successes.

  2. I really enjoyed your overview. I was very taken with Ms Tur during my time watching MSNBC in the Trump era, and somehow her wild childhood seems a suitable origin story from such a fiercely contained, capable woman.

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