“Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History” (Dey Street), by Katy Tur
The presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump seemed unlikely to gain traction at first. But the candidate skillfully stirred his voters by boasting of his own skills and vilifying many perceived opponents, from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to immigrants, to trade policies and especially, to the news media.
And few members of the news media got more attention from Trump than NBC reporter Katy Tur, who attracted his friendly attention and then, harsh attacks.
“Unbelievable,” her memoir of the Trump campaign, recalls many events that are well known by now — his call for a Muslim ban, his debate with parents of a Muslim U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, his ridiculing of a Miss Universe two decades ago, his defense of the size of his manhood during a debate, the “Access Hollywood” videotape from 11 years earlier where he boasted he could grab a woman by her private parts. That was followed by a parade of women accusing him of that sort of behavior.
Trump bulled past critics with his determined campaigning and became the Republican nominee, and then, president.
Through all the uproar, Trump repeatedly told the crowds that he will be the best leader ever, best negotiator of trade deals, best jobs president and so on.
“He is the living embodiment of the old maxim that if you say something often enough, people will believe it,” she writes.
But her book — a quick and enjoyable read — is at its best when it retells what it is like to be a member of the news media repeatedly singled out by name in front of an angry crowd as part of a group described as “disgusting” and “liars.”
The chapters switch between key points in the campaign and Election Day, enhancing the feel of chaos that must have been a big part of covering the Trump campaign.
While Tur’s job would seem like the dream assignment, she recounts the difficulties of meeting deadlines, frantic travel and competing for a crazy rush of stories while fending off attacks from Trump and his crowds of supporters.
“This job is hell,” she writes. “On relationships. On your body. On your mind.”
In his dealings with Tur, Trump is alternately upbeat, friendly, even flirtatious, then turns on her when she reports something he doesn’t like.
When Trump unleashes on her at a public rally, the crowd reacts quickly. “They turn all at once, a large animal, angry and unchained,” she writes.
After one harsh critique: “They turn as one to boo at us in unison. Six thousand Trump supporters railing against 30 or so journalists — caged in the center of the arena like a modern-day Roman Coliseum.”
His attacks on the media and what he calls “fake news” continue to this day.
Tur saw the potent mix of Trump’s determined and forceful campaigning and how he tapped into the raw anger of the big crowds that filled his rallies.
“Inside a Trump rally, these people are unchained. They can yell and scream and say the things they never would say on the outside,” she writes. Plenty of the screaming was aimed at her.
An advance staffer once assured her not to worry: “Aside from Trump, you’re the most watched person in the room. The Secret Service always has eyes on you.”
After months of following his campaign, she began to suspect that many were underestimating Trump’s potential in the election.
When FBI Director James Comey announced just over a week before Election Day that he was reopening the Clinton email investigation, Tur told a colleague her take on the dramatic development.
“He’s going to win,” she said. “It’s over. He’s going to win.”
Will Lester, who has written politics and features during his career at The Associated Press, is now an editor in the AP’s Washington Bureau.
Follow Will Lester on Twitter at http://twitter.com/wjlester