TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. When Donald Trump was campaigning, he often condemned journalists for lying, for being disgusting people who reported fake news. Sometimes, he'd single out one reporter for criticism.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There's something happening. They're not reporting it. Katy, you're not reporting it, Katy. But there's something happening, Katy. There's something happening, Katy.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TRUMP: She's back there - Little Katy. She's back there. What a lie it was.
TRUMP: No, what a lie. Katy Tur - what a lie it was from NBC to have written that - was a total lie.
GROSS: We're going to talk with Katy Tur about what it was like to be jeered like that while she was doing her job. Katy Tur covered Trump's campaign for NBC and MSNBC, and was the first national TV correspondent to cover his campaign full time. She's written a memoir called "Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat To The Craziest Campaign In American History." She's now an MSNBC anchor as well as a reporter for NBC.
Katy Tur, welcome to FRESH AIR. Describe the first time Donald Trump - candidate Trump - called you out by name at one of his rallies.
KATY TUR: Well, thanks for having me, first of all. And the first time Donald Trump called me out at a rally was the very first rally I ever went to. It was June 30, 2015. It's around a backyard pool at a private home in New Hampshire, and I am this brand new - I guess you could call it - political correspondent.
That morning, I was assigned Donald Trump full time. And I sped up there from New York to New Hampshire, driving there when a normal person - any political pro - would've flown. I just make it to this rally. It is raining. It is an awkward, curious event. And I'm standing there, writing down what he's saying on my phone, tweeting some of the things that he's saying as well, when suddenly, I hear my name. And I don't look up because I presume he's not talking about me, and my producer nudges me hard in the side. And there he is. He's pointing at me, looking at me, and so is the entire crowd and all the other reporters. And he says, Katy, you're not paying attention. And I looked at him, and I yelled back out, I'm tweeting what you're saying, to which he seemed happy to hear. And that was the beginning of my interaction and my relationship with Donald Trump.
GROSS: OK, and then subsequent times, he called you out in various ways, as we've heard. And then once, he told you to be quiet. Describe that time.
TUR: So that was, I believe, July 27, 2016. And this was a press conference that he was holding in the middle of the Democratic National Convention. He had just won his own nomination at his own convention. There was worry that the Republicans might try to take it away from him. And normally, in a normal presidential campaign, the - whoever has their convention first kind of goes underground during the other person's convention so that they can allow them the spotlight for a few days, and they can regroup. They can watch.
Donald Trump didn't do that. There was no reason to expect that he would do anything in a normal way, obviously, at this point. But instead of just allowing Hillary Clinton the three days of her convention, he takes the podium in Doral, Miami, at his golf course down there - his golf resort. And holds this freewheeling press conference, as he tended to do from time to time on the campaign. And in it, he called on Russia to hack into the emails of Hillary Clinton, find her missing emails.
Remember, emails were the one thing that he could really ding her on that had legs during the campaign that people didn't want to let go of. And I raise my hand and eventually just started calling out questions. And he looked at me, and I said, doesn't it give you pause? Doesn't it give you any pause to ask a foreign government to interfere in our election, to get into the emails of any citizen in this country, let alone Hillary Clinton? Doesn't that give you pause? And he tried to steamroll me and not answer the question, and I kept pushing. And he eventually said, be quiet, I know you're trying to save her - in reference to Hillary Clinton. And I remember it rolling off me because this is Donald Trump, and I had dealt with him so much by this point.
And it, frankly, was not the first time that he told me to be quiet. He had told me to sit down at other times too, but these thing weren't broadcast on national television. And I just kept asking and he finally answered the question, and said, no, it doesn't give me pause.
GROSS: So that was at a press conference. When you - when he was saying insulting things to you at rallies, what got the biggest, angriest response - angry at you, not at him.
TUR: Definitely December 7, 2015. This was a rally in Mount Pleasant, S.C. It was the day that he announced that he wanted to ban all Muslims from coming into America, even Muslims - at that point during the day, Muslims who might've been serving overseas in our military, Muslims who might've been overseas visiting friends or family, Muslim athletes who might've been, you know, at a match or a meet overseas, anybody, where there were questions about all sorts of well-known people that might not be able to get back into the country.
And this was a real turning point in his campaign. It was a real test of whether or not his support would stick with him. We hadn't had any primaries yet. Nobody had voted. But he was getting these massive crowds. And he was being excused for anything that he said. And this was a test - will his supporters condone him going after an entire religion?
At the time, San Bernardino had just happened a week or two before. People were scared about terrorism. This couple had gone into an office party, and shot it up and killed a number of people. And Donald Trump was saying that the administration in power - the Obama administration - was doing nothing to protect Americans, that they weren't vetting people properly, that they were putting your life at risk. Your family and your sons, your daughters, your wives, your husband, your grandparents are at risk every day because the Obama administration is not protecting you, and the media is complicit in this. So they're not only angry at Washington, they're angry at us, the journalists.
And this was one of those rallies where I felt like it was good to keep a lower profile. So I sat down on the stage - not the stage, the press riser. I wasn't standing up in front of my camera. I wasn't easily seen. I was just sitting, taking notes as he was talking. And we're waiting for him to announce the Muslim ban. He doesn't get to it yet in the rally. And suddenly, just like the first rally, I hear my name - Katy Tur. She's back there. Little Katy, what a lie it was. What a lie she told. And he's pointing at me in the crowd. The entire place turns, and they roar as one. I write like a giant, you know, unchained animal. And I just see men standing on their chairs and yelling at me. The only person, the only friendly face in the crowd that I could find, was this older lady who was right up pressed against the press pen who looked at me horrified, looked at me horrified for my safety. And I just remember thinking, smile and wave because if you smile at them and you wave, I had learned up to this point, then you diminish the tension. You diffuse the situation. You mitigate it, because if you look intimidated, if you look scared, people will take advantage, and people will push harder.
GROSS: So he'd often call you Little Katy. How tall are you?
TUR: I'm 5'2" - 5'3" on a good day.
GROSS: OK, so what did the little say to you? And I'll point out, it's Little Marco also, isn't it?
TUR: Yeah, and what interesting is Marco Rubio is...
GROSS: ...As in Marco Rubio, yeah.
TUR: Yeah, Marco Rubio's quite tall. I am much shorter than Marco Rubio. I think he means that not only in a physically demeaning way, but in a - you know, as an intimidation tactic. You're little. You're young, and you're inexperienced, and you can be pushed around. You're not a political heavyweight. You're not one of the big guns. I presume that's sort of how he means it. But he's also a literal - a very literal guy. When he sees someone who is little - and I am little - I think he is apt to say just that. That person is a little person.
GROSS: It's kind of like, oh, you're little, and adorable and totally powerless (laughter).
TUR: Yeah, yeah.
GROSS: Yeah. So then there's the time he kissed you when you were both getting ready to appear on "Morning Joe," and this was when they were doing their show live from - I think it was a restaurant or a bar.
TUR: Yeah. So this was New Hampshire, and it was early on in the campaign. I think it was November 11, 2015. It was right after the Milwaukee Republican debate. And I am there in New Hampshire. I'd just done a hit on "Morning Joe." And the question that Mika Brzezinski asked me was about why Donald Trump was changing his tone because he was nicer in that debate than he had been in the past. He - the week previously he was - the week prior to that he was going after Ben Carson, suggesting all sorts of things about how fit Ben Carson was for leadership and to be a presidential candidate and in a bit of a nasty way.
And so I was talking about his tone, and I guess I came off as relatively generous toward Donald Trump compared to my previous reporting because Donald Trump walks in and he barrels in and the first thing he sees is me standing off to the side. And he comes right up to me, and he kisses me on the cheek, just puts his hands on my shoulders and pulls me in before I could do anything. I was powerless. I just stood there frozen thinking, oh, my god, what is this man doing? He's not my friend. He's not my business partner. He's not a social acquaintance. He's not a family member of mine. This is somebody I am covering. This is a presidential candidate. I am the reporter assigned to this beat. That is just - it crosses a huge line. It's so unprofessional and so inappropriate given the circumstances.
I remember being horrified that a camera caught it and that, you know, my bosses back in New York would see it and they'd think that I was not a serious reporter and that I was too close to this campaign and I couldn't report accurately or fairly about him or that viewers might think that. And I panicked. I went and I found one of our senior producers for "Morning Joe" and I asked, you know, did you catch on on camera? And he said, no, we didn't. And I remember breathing a sigh of relief and then hearing Donald Trump brag about it on the air with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.
GROSS: Yes, well let me stop you there. Let's hear what he said on "Morning Joe." So here is candidate Donald Trump on "Morning Joe."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNING JOE")
TRUMP: One of the folks said some really nice things about me this morning on some place. And...
JOE SCARBOROUGH: Yeah.
TRUMP: ...It didn't happen to be here, but actually, Katy Tur, what happened? She was so great. I just saw her back there. I gave her a big kiss.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Really?
TRUMP: It was fantastic.
TRUMP: But on one of the...
SCARBOROUGH: I don't even know what to say about that.
BRZEZINSKI: I'm confused.
SCARBOROUGH: I know.
TRUMP: No, no...
GROSS: So what was your reaction to hearing Donald Trump say that?
TUR: Horror - it was horror. What is he doing? Why is he bragging about kissing me? And I need to really step up my game on this beat. This is not a time to make friends. This is not a time to...
GROSS: Well, you know, I mean, this was before the "Access Hollywood" tape was revealed, so you didn't know about that. But he did already have a reputation for behaving inappropriately around women. So did that figure into your reaction to that kiss as well?
TUR: No. I think I just put it out of my head immediately and kept going. I just chalked it up to Donald Trump being such a bizarre character. I mean, this is a guy who - his mood swings were wild. On, you know, on one day, he would try to introduce me to a crowd and tell them how great I was as if I was his wife or he'd call me out and say that I was doing great reporting at a rally. And then, you know, a couple days later or a couple weeks later, he would call me a liar from the stage. I mean, he just swung back and forth between these two poles that I just chalked it up as another mood swing.
GROSS: OK. If you're just joining us, my guest is Katy Tur. She is a reporter for NBC and MSNBC, and she covered the Trump campaign for both. She has a new memoir. It's called "Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat To The Craziest Campaign In American History." We'll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF AHMAD JAMAL'S "THE LINE")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Katy Tur who is an MSNBC anchor and an NBC News correspondent. She was the first person to cover the Trump campaign full time, and she did it for MSNBC and NBC. Now she has a new memoir about covering the campaign. It's called "Unbelievable."
So you never expected to be covering the Trump campaign. You were an NBC correspondent based in London. You'd come to the U.S. because you were asked by a teenager through the Make-A-Wish foundation to shadow you for a day. So you generously came to the states so that, you know, you could see him, he could shadow you. How did that lead to covering the Trump campaign?
TUR: So I came home to do that, and it was a wonderful experience. The boy's name was Aaron. He and his family are incredible people, really strong and brave people. And then when I was done doing that and when they went home, I went into the newsroom and I said hello to my bosses because I needed to remind them that I existed. When you live in an overseas bureau, you tend to get forgotten if there's not a lot of news happening. And I was literally just standing around the newsroom when business after business started dropping Donald Trump after his announcement where he talked about Mexico sending rapists into the country. And a friend of mine Bradd Jaffy, who works on "Nightly News," said Katy Tur's just standing around. She can do this. And I was. I was just standing around. So I did a couple stories for "Nightly" and I did a couple stories for the "Today" show. And a few days later, the president of NBC News said we need to have - we need to have somebody on Donald Trump. Wherever this goes, we need to have a correspondent on Donald Trump.
But remember, Terry, these things get planned well in advance. Political candidates get matched up to political correspondents. We know who's running and we know who's going to cover them. High-profile people get high-profile correspondents. Donald Trump was not a part of anyone's plan. And for that matter, neither was I. It's a political outsider in Trump. It's a political outsider in me. So they matched us together and - what they thought would have been six weeks because nobody was taking Donald Trump seriously. They presumed he would eventually drop out, that it was just an attention-getting stunt. They said, hey, listen, it'll be - it'll be short and then we'll send you back to London. And I signed on saying, OK, you know, if I hate it, at least it will be short. And it just never ended. He was serious and people were not laughing him off stage as some might have expected during a presidential debate. They were cheering him on. And his poll numbers only went up and up and up and up. And I suddenly found myself on a rollercoaster that I could not get off of.
GROSS: I want to read the sentence that starts the prologue to your memoir about covering the campaign, and the sentence is I'm about to throw up. And you write this just after Donald Trump clinches the election. Why were you about to throw up, and why did you start with that sentence?
TUR: I was about to throw up not for any partisan political reason, not because I wanted somebody else to win, not because I'm a Democrat or I'm a Republican or I'm an independent. It was nothing political about it. It was this wild ride, this unreality that we're living where facts don't matter, where nothing seems to really matter is where we will end up living for the next four years. Not only that but my embed, Ali Vitali, came up to me and said Donald Trump is going to keep doing rallies. So I envisioned myself trapped in a press pen for the rest of my life, never able to find a real home, never able to get my life back, to sleep in my own bed, get a routine back; not only that, not able to get anyone to trust us again.
GROSS: Us being the media.
TUR: Us being the media.
GROSS: So you actually do have a life now, I think (laughter). You're living in New York. You're no longer following Trump. I mean, you're reporting on things related to the president, but you're not shadowing him full time. And also you're about to get married.
TUR: I'm not shadowing him full time. I made a decision not to go to Washington. I didn't want to go to Washington. I did not want to - that's not how I saw my life unfolding in the - for the immediate future. And I now have a show at 2 o'clock on MSNBC, if I can get a plug in. And I - I mean, we report on Donald Trump all the time, and I've found - I find that my wealth of information about who he is, how he behaves, that I - you know, experience for 500 days on the campaign trail is useful every single day because Donald Trump, his past determines his present. He has not changed. So I find that I am in a really good and unique position to continue to report on him without the influence of Washington around me.
GROSS: Do you like having a show as opposed to being out in the field reporting?
TUR: You know, I do. And I do miss being out in the field reporting. I would be lying if I said that I didn't. I like being out there and talking to people and traveling and seeing the country and trying new places to eat especially. But I do like this new challenge of being in the anchor chair. And I'm able to really press politicians on what policies they're proposing or the inconsistencies that they've put out. I really enjoy that. And I think you can have nicer, fuller conversations on MSNBC with this hour than you can have sometimes when you're doing a prepackaged report for "Nightly News" or the "Today" show or for any network broadcast for that matter 'cause you're so constrained within the limits of time there. So in some ways I miss it, in other ways I don't. But I also - yeah, I can have a life here.
GROSS: My guest is Katy Tur. Her new memoir, "Unbelievable," is about covering the Trump campaign for NBC and MSNBC. After a break, we'll talk more about covering the campaign and we'll talk about her parents, who pioneered the use of helicopters for shooting TV news video in LA. They shot the video of Reginald Denny being pulled out of his truck and beaten. They were the first to spot O.J.'s white Bronco during the low-speed chase. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF OUT TO LUNCH'S "NEW ORLEANS AWAITS, SO LONG ADDS (AND THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH)")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Katy Tur. Her new memoir, "Unbelievable," is about her experiences covering the Trump campaign for NBC and MSNBC. She was the first national TV correspondent to cover Trump's campaign full time.
You managed to land the first long interview with - you know, television interview with Donald Trump after he announced his candidacy. And you asked him some pretty tough questions. I want to play a short excerpt of what happened. And here you are asking him about immigration.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TUR: Immigration is down. Why is this such a big topic for you right now?
TRUMP: Well, immigration's is a very big topic. Take a look at all the crime that's being committed. Go take a look at - look; I'm going to Arizona...
TUR: The research says that crime is - that crime is - does not match what you're saying. The research...
TRUMP: It depends on whose research.
TUR: The Pew Research, which is independent, says...
TRUMP: Don't be naive. You're a very naive person.
TUR: The Pew Research says that there are - for - immigrants on the whole create - or...
TRUMP: Come on. Try getting it out. Try getting it out.
TUR: I'll get it out.
TRUMP: I mean, I don't know if you're going to put this on television, but you don't even know what you're talking about. Try getting it out. Go ahead.
TUR: Immigrants commit less crime than U.S.-born citizens. There are less immigrants in our jails than...
TRUMP: You know what? Number one, I disagree with it. Number two, whether it's true or not, illegal immigrants - I'm talking about illegal immigrants. I'm not talking about - I'm talking about illegal immigrants. I'm an immigrant. You're an immigrant. We're all immigrants.
TUR: Illegal immigrants commit less crime, other than coming through illegally...
TRUMP: I'm talking about illegal immigrants are causing tremendous crime, tremendous crime. And nobody wants to talk about it. And that's why Fox - at least Fox - and then you won't leave this, perhaps, but at least Fox is being honest because they're now talking about it big league.
GROSS: So Katy Tur, what was your reaction when Donald Trump mentioned that you had stumbled?
TUR: I remember in the moment...
GROSS: I ask this as somebody who stumbles all the time (laughter).
TUR: I stumble. Listen - and if you watch me on MSNBC, you'll know that I stumble. It's - I - that's who I am. So I knew that he was going to try and intimidate me. I knew he was going to try and steamroll me. And so when he said, you're stumbling, I remember smiling and laughing a little in my head and saying of course he's doing this. But also saying, he is trying to intimidate you so take a deep breath, and then you know what? Yes, you will get it out. And I did.
GROSS: So what was the impact of that 29-minute interview - on Donald Trump and on you?
TUR: I guess it - it put me onto the political scene in a significant way. You know, it was a really contentious, intense interview. I didn't realize how angry he was. In the moment while I was interviewing him, I presumed it was all part of his shtick. It was all part of this show that he has. He's a reality TV-show host. He's known for the catchphrase you're fired. He's known for getting in people's faces. So I just thought this was him being TV's Donald Trump. When I watched it on the air alongside Chuck Todd - and I'm sitting next to NBC's political director, this is the moderator of "Meet The Press," and I am nobody - and I'm watching it, and I just - I couldn't believe how angry he actually was. He was seething. He never smiled. He was glaring at me the whole time. It was very clear that he had anticipated a much easier interview.
GROSS: Do you think he anticipated an easier interview because you're little Katy Tur?
TUR: Who knows. Who knows what he anticipated. But, you know, if he knew anything about me, if he knew anything about me at all, if he did any sort of research on who I was and what I did and where I've come from, he would have known better.
GROSS: So even though Donald Trump often called you little Katy Tur, you wanted to somehow communicate to him that you were - that you were tough. You'd grown up in a tough family. You'd grown up in a family that covered the news. Your parents, when they were in their 20s, started the Los Angeles News Service. Their specialty became helicopter footage. Would you headline for us some of the most famous stories they covered from the air?
TUR: They found O.J. on the slow-speed pursuit. They covered the 1992 LA riots and the beating infamously of Reginald Denny, a gravel truck driver who happened to stop in the wrong intersection at the wrong time. They covered almost every police pursuit that you saw in Los Angeles in the 1990s, Malibu wildfires, Madonna and Sean Penn getting married. Madonna ended up flipping my dad the bird. And, in one instance, a terrible crash at LAX where two planes collided on the tarmac and burst into flames.
GROSS: And your father would fly the helicopter, your mother would hang out of the helicopter with the video-camera shooting?
TUR: Yeah. So before we had a gyro-stablized camera, a gyrocam that you mounted on the front of the helicopter, which pretty much everybody has nowadays, my mom would hang out over the skids of the helicopter, just strapped in with a harness, with a 50-pound, 70-pound, something like that, betacam on her shoulder recording the news a hundred feet, 200 feet, 500 feet below her.
GROSS: And you're right that a lot of people in local TV news thought of your parents as being responsible for the downfall (laughter) of local TV news. What were your thoughts? What are your thoughts about that now?
TUR: So my parents covered police pursuits, and it was in many ways, you know, the beginnings of reality-show TV in this captivating story that was a lot of flash but not all that much substance. And so when they popularized it and they made it must-see television in the '90s, you couldn't tear yourself away from a police pursuit. There was, you know, cheeky talk, which obviously had a grain of truth to it, that they were responsible for diminishing the seriousness of the nightly broadcast of news. I have mixed feelings about it now because they covered a lot of really serious stories. The Reginald Denny beating exposed how the LAPD had just abandoned the city, and they were risking their lives covering it. They were risking their lives covering fires. They were risking their lives covering - I think my parents, they would search for hours on end for missing planes that had crashed into the Santa Monica Mountains to find and rescue people. So they did - they did a combination of the two.
GROSS: What did you think about covering celebrity weddings when the celebrities didn't want the coverage, like the Sean Penn and Madonna wedding?
TUR: Yeah, that was very early on. That was when they were just starting. And, you know, looking back on it now, is it something that I would have done? No. But that was the beginning of this explosion of paparazzi news-gathering.
GROSS: After the Reginald Denny story that your parents covered from the air, your father started speaking out about the LAPD and how they weren't doing their job or they weren't doing it correctly. And he started getting death threats and had to start - and started to carry a concealed weapon. He slept with a gun under his pillow. What did that do to your sense of security? How old were you then?
TUR: 1992, I was - I think I was 8 when this happened. And it was scary. We - my brother and I couldn't stay in our home without my parents so we ended up having to stay with our grandparents for a little while during - especially during the riots. And my dad did sleep with a gun under his pillow. As a kid I wasn't afraid of ghosts. I wasn't afraid of monsters under my bed. I was afraid of somebody breaking into our home. I didn't sleep well as a child, looking back. I had a hard time getting through the night. It was - it was unnerving.
GROSS: You write that everything started to fall apart in your family in 1998. Your father had heart surgery. Your grandmother got lung cancer. This is right after your parents had bought a $1.3 million helicopter to cover the news. And they couldn't make payments on it. They were having trouble making payments on it. So what was that period like for you when - when money became a really big issue? And health?
TUR: It was really difficult because this came out of nowhere. They had been doing really well. They were on top of their game. We would go to restaurants and we'd hear people talking about my dad, and they would have no idea who my dad was because my dad's face was never on television. I mean, they were, you know, a part of the fabric of Los Angeles. And it changed in an instant. They lost their business. They were difficult to work with. And KCBS, who they were working with at the time, got a chance to hire their employees out from underneath them and find a different helicopter to use. And so it undercut our entire business, and suddenly we were massively in debt. They weren't the kind of people who saved a lot of money.
My grandmother was the glue that not only kept the Los Angeles News Service together and running - 'cause she was the most likable part of the business. If somebody didn't like my dad or even didn't like my mom, they definitely liked Judy. Judy was - had all the charisma and all the relationships. But she also kept the family together. I mean, she really was the glue for the entire Tur family. And she got ill and died very suddenly. And she was like a mother to me because my parents worked so much. She would pick me up from school and she would make me dinner. And she was really young. I mean, she was 43 when I was born, and people thought I was mini Judy. She would take me to drop-off tapes early on in the business at all the local Los Angeles news stations. So I knew all these new stations when I was a kid because of her.
And so in the span of just a few months, my parents lost their jobs and my grandmother died. And it was like the Turs just completely fell apart. Completely.
GROSS: Did you have to move to, like, a cheaper neighborhood?
TUR: We moved a lot. We moved from house to house. Rent was often not on time. Most of the time it was late but it eventually got paid. But it was always a struggle. It was always a struggle, and it was always a point of stress. But my brother and I went to a private school and, you know, we still lived in a nice neighborhood. So it was - part of the stress was because we still went to a private school and because we lived in a nice neighborhood because my parents refused to let go of the - of the trappings of the life that they had built. But I remember just feeling like I had two sets of parents. I had the parents pre-1998 and the parents post-1998.
GROSS: And then your...
TUR: It was hard.
GROSS: Your parents separated in, what? Like, 2005, 2002?
GROSS: I forget what the year is. OK.
TUR: ...On the day of my - of my college graduation.
GROSS: (Laughter) Happy graduation.
TUR: They were like, congratulations, you're an adult. We're not dealing with each other any longer.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Katy Tur, and she covered the Donald Trump presidential campaign for MSNBC and NBC. Now she's written a memoir about it called "Unbelievable." We're going to take a short break then we'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF PAQUITO D'RIVERA'S "CONTRADANZA")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Katy Tur, and she covered the Donald Trump campaign for NBC and MSNBC. Now she continues to report for NBC, and she has a show on MSNBC. So she's an anchor for MSNBC. Her memoir about covering the Trump campaign has just been published. It's called "Unbelievable."
Another big turn in your family life was that your father not too long ago transitioned to female. Did you have any clue that that was going to happen?
TUR: You know, I didn't. I was - I was pretty surprised by it. My dad - my dad was a cowboy. He was super macho for as long as I can remember him. So this was definitely a surprise.
GROSS: So he came out as trans - when was this?
TUR: 2000 and oh, gosh.
GROSS: So it happened before the campaign?
GROSS: Since gay rights and, well, LGBTQ rights, and since, like, bathroom access for trans people had become such an issue by the time of the campaign, marriage equality had been won. But you just never know what the future's, you know, going to bring. Did you feel, like, protective of your father or that somebody would try to use your father's identity as trans against you in some way, since you had people who were looking for ways to weaken you or diminish you or insult you in some way? And some of those people, like some of the Trump supporters, I'm sure, were anti-gay rights and anti trans. So yeah, how did that figure into your calculations when you were thinking about - about your safety, about your identity as a reporter and how somebody with, you know, bad intent might try to, you know, use anything against you?
TUR: I remember I was concerned about transgender rights, about how people might treat my father, about this idea that my dad was somehow other or that there could have been something wrong. I certainly worried about that. Donald Trump, when he was asked about transgender rights on the "Today" show and asked about the bathroom bill on the "Today" show, said that - he was asked in regards to Caitlyn Jenner. And he said, she can use whatever bathroom she wants. And he came out, and it was something that was, at the time, relatively celebrated among the trans community, that he wasn't going to do what you would expect a typical social conservative to do.
I knew people would go - try to go after me by using my family. I just - I knew that was obviously going to happen, and they did. I mean, they did on Twitter, often, but I ignored them. I mean, I remember responding I think once. And I pointed out that my dad is an incredible person who's done incredible things, who's saved the lives - literally, saved the lives of dozens of people, who's gotten death threats for doing a job that was important, for being a journalist. And my dad made a really brave decision by deciding that he, now she, wanted to live her truth. She wanted to live as a woman. And I think that's an incredible thing. And for the people who want to use that against me, or to try and take me down or insult me over it, I just - I feel badly for them because they're ludicrous people.
GROSS: So I want to get back to Donald Trump. Your book ends with these words - Donald Trump went on to Washington. He may or may not still be there by the time you read these words. I'll add, he's still there. And then you write, there's a pretty good case that he didn't want to go in the first place, didn't like it when it got there and wished for a way back into his old life that didn't involve scandal or shame. Do you often wonder if Donald Trump actually wants to be president now, if he's sorry that he got into this?
TUR: I think that is a reasonable question, absolutely. I mean, this is a guy who has never shown a lot of interest in policy or in civic service. He never ran for office, never held an elected office, was not in the military. He built a big business, but the business is mostly family-run. He's been - very much, his career before this was about self-promotion and self-aggrandizement.
So they - I think it's a valid question that remains open about whether or not he truly wanted to be president. And there's a good argument to be made that he did not want to be president and that he's not having a good time while he's in office. But I think that that is ultimately a question that nobody other than Donald Trump can answer.
GROSS: Do you think you'll ever get to interview him again?
TUR: I certainly hope so. I do, I do.
GROSS: You don't vote, and - because you want to be neutral. Especially when you're covering a candidate, you don't want that candidate to think that you're for them or against them. You're just covering them. And voting is the right that every citizen should have. It's a private thing. You're in the voting booth. No one knows who you voted for unless you tell them. So given all that, why do you choose not to vote?
TUR: Because I don't want to color my own opinion. I think that if I was voting, I would feel like I had a horse in the race, and I don't have a horse in the race. My job during this campaign season was to tell you what was going on as accurately as I could and without bias, without coloring it with a desire that I might have, internally, for a different outcome. And I feel very strongly about that, personally. I know everyone has their own opinions on this, but I feel very strongly about it. So if I am covering politics or if I'm covering, specifically, a presidential race, I don't think it's appropriate to vote.
GROSS: Katy Tur, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much.
TUR: Terry, thank you. I found this to be a wonderful experience.
GROSS: Katy Tur is an MSNBC anchor and a reporter for NBC. Her memoir about covering the Trump campaign is called "Unbelievable." This is FRESH AIR.
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Our book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review of Claire Messud's new novel, "The Burning Girl." Maureen says the book looks at what it's like to be young, female and afraid.
MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: About halfway through Claire Messud's new novel called "The Burning Girl," our narrator, a 12-year-old girl named Julia, makes this pronouncement. Sometimes, Julia says, I felt that growing up and being a girl was about learning to be afraid - not paranoid, exactly, but always alert and aware, like checking out the exits in the movie theater or the fire escape in a hotel. You came to know, in a way you hadn't as a kid, that the body you inhabited was vulnerable, imperfectly fortified. Like most such pronouncements, this one can be picked apart and qualified. But within the tight confines of Messud's novel, the grim truth of Julia's words is indisputable.
"The Burning Girl" reads like an updated Gothic tale, in part because it has so many of the traditional trappings of the genre - a decaying mansion, an evil guardian and ghosts, and in part because it's a novel about the friendship between two adolescent girls. And what life journey could be more gothic than the passage through adolescence? Julia and her best friend, Cassie, had been inseparable since they met in nursery school in their small Massachusetts town. Julia's parents are college-educated professionals. Cassie's mother is a hospice nurse. She doesn't know her dad. In the giddy fog of childhood, the girls' different class backgrounds and family situations don't matter - until adolescence hits, and then everything begins to matter.
Looking back, Julia recalls how during the crucial summer before seventh grade, she and Cassie are emboldened to walk far afield from town on adventures. They swim in an abandoned quarry pool where, as legend has it, a teenager back in the 1980s dived in and never surfaced again. They wander deep into the woods and break into a decrepit mansion that had once been a women's asylum. Inside, the decor is straight out of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Gothic feminist short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" - empty cells with metal bedsteads, blooming mold on the walls in shades of orange, watermelon and lime. All this place lacks is a resident madwoman, but it won't have to wait for long.
Because Messud is such a precise and restrained writer, the girls' haunted summer walking tour remains credible as well as evocative. For instance, she shows Julia struggling to find just the right word to describe the color of the boulders in the quarry. Not gold, exactly, but tawny, like a lion. And she characterizes the gloom inside the asylum's common room as being hazed with dust. But it's when Julia and Cassie enter the world of 7th grade, a time when things naturally get weird, that Messud reminds us readers what a psychologically deft writer she is and how powerfully she can communicate emotions without spelling them out. Cassie begins to pull away from Julia. She becomes friends with girls who wear push-up bras and makeup, and she starts sneaking off to boy-girl parties. The fading away of the friendship is performed in pantomime. Neither Julia nor Cassie speaks a word to each other about what's going on. Instead, as Julia recalls, (reading) we stepped through the looking glass into a world all of fake friendliness. I had other friends, but I'd lost the friend I loved best and had loved without thinking for as long as I can remember, and it seemed absolutely essential not to appear to care.
A lot more happens in "The Burning Girl," but overall, this is a novel that's made distinct by its mood more than its story. The climax here melds together the mundane griefs and cruelties of adolescence with the eerie atmosphere of those dark woods and that asylum. Like most of Messud's other novels, "The Burning Girl" deeply excavates the subject of female loneliness. Growing up female, as Julia tells us, may indeed have something to do with learning to be afraid, but in writing on the difficult topics of abandonment, betrayal and isolation, Messud herself is fearless.
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed "The Burning Girl" by Claire Messud. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about the risk of nuclear war with North Korea. My guests will be New Yorker staff writer Evan Osnos, who spent four days in Pyongyang last month, where he says talk of nuclear war is everywhere, including on TV and billboards. We'll talk about why this has become an especially risky time and the difficulties the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea have in interpreting each other's actions and words. We'll also talk about his experiences in North Korea. I hope you'll join us.
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GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie and Thea Chaloner. I'm Terry Gross.
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