Book review of “Rough Draft”, by Katy Tur

Placeholder while article actions are loading

Katy Tur, an MSNBC anchor, rose to prominence as a reporter during the 2016 presidential campaign, when Donald Trump plucked her from obscurity to taunt her at rallies as “little Katy,” a “third-rate reporter,” an example of the media whom he despises. Tur endured repeated abuse with remarkable confidence, winning a major journalism award and recounting her experience in a bestselling campaign memoir, “Incredible.”

Now, in a second memoir, “Rough Draft,” Tur makes it clear why she was particularly well-equipped for those bruises.

She was raised in Los Angeles by parents who were trailblazing journalists who prepared her for an exciting life of news pursuit. But Bob Tur—who came out as transgender in 2013 to become a woman, Zoey—was also a volatile, sometimes abusive father who subjected their family to rage and abuse.

This is a case study on the blessings and curses of family inheritance, a vivid account of how one woman’s legacy propelled her from a tumultuous childhood to a high-profile position in television journalism.

“I can thank my father for training, pushing, shaping me as a reporter and presenter,” Tur writes. “I can hate her for hitting me, hitting me, chasing me, hurting my mom and brother, kicking my dog ​​and setting our lives on fire.”

It’s strange that anyone under 40 has already written two memoirs, but Tur has the humility to call this a “rough draft” of an autobiography. It’s more provocative than Tur’s first book, About Trump, a conventional campaign memoir. “Rough Draft” is a painful read in many parts, laced with humor in others, embellished with reflections on journalism.

There is overlap with Tur’s campaign book, and Trump is still a central figure. But here he is a doppelgänger for her bullying father.

“I had dealt with this kind of behavior before,” she writes of Trump. “This insistence on attention. This love of reporting and publicity, no matter how good or bad. This obsession with respect and tolerance for fighting and feuds. … I had seen it all before in my own family.”

Tur’s mother and father, Marika Gerrard, rose to fame in the 1980s and 1990s for their groundbreaking live helicopter coverage of major news events. As founders of the Los Angeles News Service, they scored such firsts as live air coverage of OJ Simpson’s chase, the mob attack on truck driver Reginald Denny during the 1992 riots, and Madonna’s secret marriage to Sean Penn.

Their company eventually fell apart, and Tur says it was because of one thing: her father’s wrath. The marriage also ended and Tur learned of their divorce on the day she graduated from college.

She left Los Angeles in her early twenties and took her burgeoning journalism skills to New York. She lived with Keith Olbermann, an MSNBC star who was almost 25 years her senior. “I became, in gossip, the bimbo,” she writes, bluntly acknowledging that she paid a professional price for the relationship. Long after they broke up, now married to CBS correspondent Tony Dokoupil and mother of two, Tur says that even today detractors bring up her former famous boyfriend in order to diminish her performance.

She talks about her career rise through a number of non-glamorous jobs, at the Weather Channel and in New York local news, before hitting NBC and then landing in London as a foreign correspondent.

That dream job was cut short when she was temporarily appointed in 2015 to cover the Trump campaign, which was then considered a doomed undertaking. But it turned out to be a full-time job, a one and a half year endurance test.

“My ability to stay with the Trump beat, stay put – fend off competition and fatigue and buckets of abuse, hang out long enough to see the country change, and with it my little life – everything goes back to my father,” she writes.

After Trump’s surprise victory, Tur was not assigned to the White House — a common destination for reporters reporting on a winning candidate. She stayed in New York and 2017 was a great year. She was commissioned to anchor an afternoon show on MSNBC. Her book on Trump was a huge success. She married Dokoupil and had their first child in 2019, their second in 2021.

As she grew in journalism, so did tensions with her father, who, upon announcing his plan to become a woman, told her, “That’s why I’ve been so mad.” Tur says she supported her father’s transition, but wouldn’t accept it as a way to erase responsibility for the past. Over the next few years, her father told interviewers that they were estranged because she couldn’t accept his transition. Tur denies that and in this book describes how she was estranged because Zoey Tur refused to discuss and address the violence and abuse Bob Tur inflicted on their family.

“My father wanted to throw the past into the abyss and sink it, while I had to dig it up and discuss it,” she writes. “There was just no way to get past this difference, although we both tried.”

Tur’s memoirs contain reflections on the shortcomings of contemporary journalism – such as cable’s contribution to the polarization of politics – but with no grand ideas to fix it. In a denial of Walter Cronkite’s hero status, she argues that the reverence for great newscasters of the past is overstated, and she makes a decent claim that today’s craft is “more accountable” because it’s open to immediate feedback.

She explores the challenges of women in journalism and delves deep into the special fear of new mothers. She was concerned about losing her edge and her job during her maternity leave. She admits she was impatient during her newborn’s first pediatrician visit, and she didn’t want to go outside because the office was a dead zone for cell service. The panic of her first day at work will remain true to any working mother.

The book’s appeal may not extend far beyond its fans, but Tur has many and they will enjoy this fast-paced story. Two key people in her audience are her parents: Tur has special credit for her mother’s underappreciated role in the family business; she expresses hope that the book will “open a door, start a new chapter” between herself and her father.

“No one can choose the gifts of his youth. But anyone can work to reject its worst lessons,” she writes.

Janet Hook has covered national politics for the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Atria/one signal. 272 pp. $28.

Leave a Comment