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Anchor Katy Tur revisits her high-flying childhood — and the hurt that lingers

Katy Tur chronicled her experience covering Donald Trump's first presidential campaign on her previous book, <em>Unbelievable.</em>
Virginia Sherwood
Katy Tur chronicled her experience covering Donald Trump's first presidential campaign on her previous book, Unbelievable.

Editor's note: Katy Tur refers to her parent, Zoey Tur, as her father and uses the pronoun "he" when referring to Zoey prior to her transition.

From childhood, NBC News correspondent and MSNBC host Katy Tur seemed destined to become a broadcast journalist. She grew up around cameras and microphones, with parents who ran a breaking news service in Los Angeles. One piloted a news helicopter and offered commentary while the other operated the camera, hanging over the skids capturing video.

"The iconic video that you remember from the '80s and '90s — almost all of it my parents shot," Tur says. "They got O.J. [Simpson] on that slow-speed pursuit, the Reginald Denny beating in the L.A. riots. ... They got it all."

The footage of Madonna flipping offthe news helicopter on her wedding day to Sean Penn in 1985? That finger was aimed at Tur's parents.

Tur would sometimes join them as they chased stories in the helicopter. She remembers zooming along highways as they covered police pursuits. When they hovered over wildfires, she could feel the heat from the flames on her shins."I felt more comfortable [in the helicopter] than I felt in my own bed," Tur says. "Nothing scared me. I loved the feeling of flight, the rush of it."

Tur went on to pursue a career in broadcast journalism. She started out as a local news reporter before moving on to the national news circuit. Her 2017 book, Unbelievable, chronicled her experiences covering the 2016 Trump campaign for NBC News and MSNBC.

In her new memoir, Rough Draft, Tur looks back on her childhood, and reflects on her difficult relationship with her father — Zoey Tur, who came out as a trans woman in 2013 — a person she describes in her memoir as talented and charismatic, but also volatile and, at times, abusive.

Tur explains that she uses different pronouns for Zoey depending on what period of her life she is recalling: "When I'm talking about my memories of my father before she announced to me that she was transitioning, I use the pronoun 'he' because I'm going in the past. When I talk about my father now, or from 2013 on, from the moment she announced her transition to me, she is a 'she.'"

"I want to be clear about that and respectful," Tur says. "It is in no way intending to not show acceptance for who she is now, and who she was originally as well."

Interview highlights

<em>Rough Draft,</em> by Katy Tur
/ Simon & Schuster
Simon & Schuster
Rough Draft, by Katy Tur

On her mother, Marika Gerrard, not getting adequate credit for her work

My mom and my dad were both Los Angeles News Service, but my dad usually gets most of the credit because he had a much bigger personality and he was the face of it. But my mom shot all of the video, nearly all of the video. Certainly the most iconic video, the most important video. And one of them was the Reginald Denny beating during the L.A. riots, where she was literally hanging over the skids, over that news story, and put herself in such danger that some of the guys on the street were shooting up at the helicopter. There were bullet holes in the battery beneath her seats. ... That's how gutsy she was.

Yet when my parents won an Emmy for that footage, the Emmy listed four names [and] none of them were hers. It was my dad, the news director, and a couple of people on the desk. The men involved in this took my mother's name off of it because they couldn't fit more names. So they decided that it was more important to get the people back in the news station on to the award than it was to make sure the woman who shot it was on the award. So I want to set the record straight and say she shot that video and she deserves the credit.

On why local TV news was a great place to start out as a reporter

Katy Tur poses with her parents' news helicopter in an undated photo.
/ Katy Tur
Katy Tur
Katy Tur poses with her parents' news helicopter in an undated photo.

If you want to be a reporter, the best place to start, often, is in local news ... because you learn the ins and outs of a community. You learn how to develop sources even when it can be a little bit difficult. You learn what the people care about. You learn how to craft a story and to get their message out. And you learn to do it really fast. And so I valued being at News12 and then at WPIX and WNBC because I got to know New York City better than people I knew who had grown up in New York City. And I had been to neighborhoods that they had never been to. I'd spoken to the types of people that they had never interacted with. I had talked about problems that you don't get in every neighborhood, problems with hot water, the cameras surveillance not working in some of the housing complexes, the subway's problems.

On the price she paid professionally for having a relationship with Keith Olbermann

When I first started out, I was a lot younger than Keith. And Keith was an enemy of The New York Post and Fox News and so they would try to dig up anything they could about him to discredit him or to hurt him. And at the time, I was a pretty easy target. And so they dug up stuff about me and they found a photo of me dancing in college and put it out there ... and the subtext was that I'm a bimbo. ...

When I got my own job in the business, it wasn't a secret because I was in The Post all the time. People that I worked with would snicker behind my back or they wouldn't take me seriously, or I felt like I had to go above and beyond to make them take me seriously, work harder. And then I started building up a lot of walls because I didn't trust anybody. If someone was being nice, I assumed they had ulterior motives. That label followed me around for a while. This "bimbo" label and the whispers of, "Oh, she only has this job because of this reason or that reason. Keith got her this, and that's why she's here. That's why she knows people." Never, "Wait, hold on. She's doing the work and she's doing a decent job at the work." It took many years for me to shake that off. And even today, when you want to discredit me, you will bring up Keith. Like my Twitter is filled with people saying that I slept my way to the top, etc.

On how her volatile relationship with Zoey prepared her for Donald Trump

My dad and Donald Trump have similar personality types. I'm not saying that they are the same person. I'm not saying that they have the same thoughts or advocate for the same things, not at all. But personality types ... [they are] bombastic and magnetic and funny and volatile and sometimes scary and angry, all of that rolled into one. So when Donald Trump would come at me either in a vicious way or in a friendly way, in a bantering way, I just knew how to parry that shot. I knew how to deal with it. I knew how to stand up to him. I knew how to speak to him. And that was because I grew up speaking to a similar personality type. ... They are not the same person, but if they were asking, I would recommend the same therapist.

Heidi Saman and Joel Wolfram produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Natalie Escobar adapted it for the web.

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Dave Davies is a guest host for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.