What does it say about my reading habits that when I needed something easy, I picked up the 2017 book Unbelievable: My Front Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur? And that subtitle? It’s not holding up over time, if the state of the 2020 campaign is any indication.
Tur was a fairly young reporter without much political background when NBC tapped her to follow Donald Trump’s campaign. That’s all changed now, but this book conveys the attitude of her previous neophyte status. She knew the news business, just not politics. And that made her the perfect reporter to cover a candidate who was anything but politics as usual.
We learn how short-lived she thought the assignment would be. She didn’t even get rid of her London apartment. Instead, she just jumped into the campaign trail with both feet. Suddenly she’s in a new city at a new rally on every single page, especially as the election draws nearer.
Tur balances her personal life and the challenges of switching to politics during this “craziest campaign.” Sometimes she reminds us that reporters are just like us—setting seven alarms to be sure we wake up. Other times she focuses on the art of writing a 30-second on-air segment or crafting a super short question for a candidate with a 141-character attention span.
She writes about how every new incident seemed like the thing that would bring an end to Trump’s campaign. Now, after four years, it seems impossibly naïve to remember how people thought he wouldn’t last a full four years. Heck, now his crowds chant “12 more years.”
This was just what I was hoping it would be. A fast and enjoyable read. Tur is full of insights into the candidate, including some that struck home now more than ever. She writes,
“Everything he says falls into one of two categories. If it’s good it’s “we.” If it’s bad it’s “they.” “We” are going to have so much winning. “They” are going to hate it. His supporters feel that he is fighting for them. They identify with him. They can relate. “He talks just like us,” supporters say over and over again. He’s the rich guy they would be if they were rich. And he knows it.”
That seems right on target. The problem for me is how this quote relates to a book I read in July called How Fascism Works. That author taught me about the us versus them mentality of fascism. So as light-hearted as Tur’s writing is, it’s also tough to swallow.
Tur reminds us what it feels like to be a member of the media at a Trump rally. He called her out as “Little Katy” and “Fake News” to the crowds over and over. It’s chilling to hear about how scary this was for her.
Through it all, Tur comes across as a very human woman just trying to juggle a thousand priorities and get through the day. Only to go back to juggling again tomorrow. There’s a great chapter about her parents’ career in the Los Angeles media. It reminds us that Tur has the business in her blood, but at the same time offers a fresh perspective.
I recommend this to political and memoir readers. Tur captures a period of history that needs to be told, no matter how over it we feel on a daily basis.