It started in June of 2015, at a small gathering in Bedford, N.H. NBC News had assigned reporter Katy Tur to cover the nascent candidacy of Donald Trump just a few hours earlier.
Tur was standing among a dozen or so reporters, tweeting Trump’s remarks, when he stopped talking and looked at her.
“Katy, you’re not listening to me,” he said. Tur looked up. “I am listening to you,” she replied. “I’m tweeting what you’re saying.”
Tur said she found it “funny” that Trump, whom she’d never met, would pick her out of a crowd and call attention to her. “I thought, how in the world did this man know my name?”
They would get to know each other better soon enough.
A few days later, Tur landed an interview with Trump at Trump Tower. She was polite but insistent in her questioning, probing him about his Mexican-immigrants-as-rapists comments from his campaign announcement, among other topics. Trump grew agitated. At one point, Tur stumbled, and Trump pounced. “C’mon, spit it out,” he taunted.
When she questioned him about why his clothing line was manufactured abroad, Trump bristled again. “You’re not bringing up anything new,” he said. “Y’know, you’re acting like you’re the great reporter, bah bah bah.”
The would-be coup de grace came a few minutes later when Tur hesitated in framing another question. “C’mon, try getting it out,” he said. “Try getting it out. . . . You don’t even know what you’re talking about. Try getting it out. Go ahead.”
Afterward, cameras off, Trump critiqued her again for her minor slip-ups. “I said, ‘So what? I’m not running for president,’ ” Tur remembers. “And he said, ‘You would never be president.’ And I said, ‘Okay.’ ”
Tur spent the next 16 months following the man who would go on to win the Republican nomination and the presidency. Along the way, she would unwittingly, and at times quite uncomfortably, become a kind of symbol, the living embodiment of Trump’s hostility toward the news media. And it has been good for her, just as it has been for Megyn Kelly, the former Fox New host.
Trump’s attacks on Kelly may have had a higher profile, but few reporters took as much flak from the future president as Tur. His public lashings on Twitter and at rallies seemed to become obsessive, as if he were acting out a frustrated crush. He derided her as “Little Katy,” recommended that she be fired, called her “incompetent,” “dishonest,” a “3rd rate reporter.” His most frequent complaint: that she wasn’t reporting the size of his campaign crowds (“Katy — you’re not reporting it, Katy,” he bellowed at one point. “There’s something happening, Katy.”)
A predictable comet’s tail of ugliness followed each slight. Prompted by Trump, supporters would occasionally boo her at rallies. They showered her with abuse on social media (and still do), including not infrequent death threats. The climate became so overheated at one of his events that Trump’s aides inquired about her well-being. After another, Secret Service agents approached her and escorted her to her car. NBC eventually assigned a private security detail to her.
Tur’s reaction to the tumult was like that during her first confrontations in New Hampshire and in Trump Tower. She stood her ground. She didn’t fire back. She continued reporting.
Now she smiles at the memory, as composed as a sonnet.
“Generally, I find the hotter the temperature, the cooler I am,” she says. “It’s times of relative calm and ease that I start to wind myself up.”
Trump won the election, but Tur got a final laugh, too. His intermittent disparagement elevated her from near obscurity. She became one of NBC’s most visible reporters, an almost daily presence on MSNBC and a semiregular on the “Today” show, “NBC Nightly News” and “Meet the Press.” Before the campaign concluded, she signed a book contract to recount her months covering Trump (working title: “Unbelievable”). NBC handed her an afternoon slot on MSNBC to host a program about the Trump administration’s first 100 days.
“I think she’s incredible,” says her boss, NBC News President Deborah Turness. “She was tough but fair. She never once stopped working, never once pulled back from her commitment. It takes an amazing amount of poise to hold your position when the crowd is chanting your name, or when people are questioning your journalism.”
Tur, 33, is the first to admit it’s been a fast and bumpy ride. She had almost no experience as a political reporter when Turness decided to assign her to Trump’s campaign (Turness thought “an outsider covering the outsider” might generate some interesting coverage). A foreign correspondent based in London at the time, Tur was on a visit to New York when she was pressed into service to cover a couple of early Trump controversies.
When NBC newsgathering chief David Verdi asked her to take on the Trump beat in June 2015, he suggested it probably wouldn’t last long. “ ‘You’ll spend the summer in New York,’ ” she recalls Verdi saying. “And if he wins, he said, ‘You’ll go to the White House.’ ”
The latter idea seemed absurd, but Tur entertained it. “I had this premonition at that moment and I thought, ‘Wow, what if he does win?’ And I said no. And I said to myself, ‘Katy, mark this moment, because if he does win this will be the moment that changes your life.’ I then just as quickly cast it aside because at the time it was just such a wild thought.”
Life on the trail proved to be something like a military deployment. It was often intense and colorful, Tur said, but also featured long stretches of tedium, sleeplessness and discomfort. In her case, there was also heartbreak; a boyfriend who lived in Paris became an ex-boyfriend during her long absence. (She is now engaged to CBS News reporter Tony Dokoupil).
Recalling the experience, Tur — who was once a tornado- chasing correspondent for the Weather Channel — reaches for a meteorological metaphor: Covering Trump “was like a hurricane making landfall every day. [On the Weather Channel], you were always talking about a crazy scene going on behind you. But you also had to find a way to talk about the monotony because there were days where we’d see nothing and we’d still have to come up with a story.”
Tur says her unflappable demeanor may be a byproduct of growing up in a household that was “a bit chaotic,” fraught with constant improvisation. Her parents, Bob Tur and Marika Gerrard, were airborne journalists, covering fires, plane crashes and police pursuits from a helicopter in the skies over Los Angeles. The couple — he at the helicopter’s controls, she handling the camera — relayed the first TV images of O.J. Simpson’s Bronco chase in 1994 and the beating of Reginald Denny, the truck driver who was assaulted by a mob at the start of the L.A. riots in 1992.
Tur spent a good part of her childhood in and around the copter, too. Her father sometimes let her take the joystick of the aircraft while she sat on his lap. (Bob Tur changed his name to Hanna Zoey Tur when he began transitioning from male to female in 2013.)
Their daughter experienced the backlash from their reporting when she was just 9. After the Denny beating aired around the world, the family received death threats. As a precaution, she and her younger brother, James, temporarily moved in with their grandparents.
Tur had little interest in pursuing a career in journalism while attending the University of California at Santa Barbara; she thought about becoming a doctor or lawyer but ended up studying art and philosophy. She drifted into the news business after graduation, starting as an editorial assistant at a Los Angeles station, KTLA. Hoping to become a field producer, she tagged along on weekends with a reporter, Jaime Chambers.
She compiled enough production credits to get a job at News12, a cable station covering Brooklyn and Queens. Tur was a “one-man band,” reporting, shooting, writing and editing her stories. The work was grueling, paid poorly and was occasionally dangerous.
“You’d be out at 10 o’clock at night in the projects, alone, and the cops would come up to you and say, ‘What are you doing here?’ ” she recalls. “I’d tell them, ‘Well, my assignment editor told me I had to come for a shooting.’ ”
Later, she was hired by WNBC, the NBC-owned affiliate in New York, and from there vaulted to the mother ship, NBC News, in 2012. Tur was 29.
Tur mentions several mentors during her career sprint: Chambers, former NBC anchor Brian Williams and Rashida Jones, now MSNBC’s managing editor. She doesn’t talk about political commentator Keith Olbermann, with whom she had a three-year relationship during her mid-20s.
As for Trump’s treatment of her, Tur has no complaints, and only a few guesses about why he was so belligerent toward her. She says it may have had something to do with her constant presence and insistent questioning during the campaign. In some ways, she suggests, it may have been sign of respect.
“I think Trump is someone who appreciates and connects with people who hold their own and are strong individuals,” she says. “I think he can smell weakness and if you show him weakness, he exploits it and he doesn’t respect you. If I had rolled over, I think he would have never mentioned my name again.”