News & Politics

Katy Tur on Covering Trump: “Access Alone Won’t Get You to the Truth”

It was June 2015 when Katy Tur got the call from her editor: Donald Trump had just made his infamous descent down the escalator of Trump Tower to announce his presidential bid, and NBC needed someone to cover his campaign. Tur was a foreign correspondent in London, but her editor assured her she’d be needed for six weeks, max. Two years later, Trump is President and Tur is one of the most prominent political reporters in the US. Her tough questions on the trail drew the ire of the mogul and his supporters, who taunted her as “little Katy.” At one rally, she had to have Secret Service escort her out, her safety in question. In advance of her Politics and Prose appearance, we talked to Tur about what it was like covering one of the most tumultuous campaigns in American history.

Why did you decide that a book chronicling your experience on the trail might be worthwhile?

I didn’t think I would write a book until Marie Claire approached me for a first-person account of life on the road. I ended up submitting 3,000 words, but I had some­thing like 67,000 in my head. The sheer absurdity of living out of a suitcase and eating doughnuts for dinner while trying to make sense of Trump couldn’t be con­fined to a couple of magazine pages.

Who’s your intended audience?

Anyone who still wakes up won­dering if this is real life. How could Trump defy all the rules of political engagement—in many cases, the rules of common decency—and win? I want to answer those questions. To tell you what it was like to be there as it was happening. To tell you why his supporters can’t be dismissed. I want you to see what it’s like to be a journalist.

How did you balance the time needed for your book with your moment-to-moment duties?

I gave my life away to the campaign trail. Once I decided I wasn’t going to have a life, it wasn’t hard to work from the moment I woke up till the moment I went to sleep.

In writing, did you learn anything about yourself? Was there anything you wish you’d done differently on the trail?

I learned too much and I saw too much. You’ll know what I mean when you read it.

What’s your advice for aspiring political reporters?

Access is seductive, but access alone won’t get you to the truth. Don’t compromise journalism to get a nugget that everyone else will end up getting anyway. News isn’t supposed to make you comfortable. If it makes you comfortable, you’re doing it wrong.

Staff Writer

Elaina Plott joined Washingtonian in June 2016 as a staff writer. She has written about her past life as an Ann Coulter fangirl, how the Obamas changed Washington, and the rise and fall of Roll Call. She previously covered Congress for National Review. Her writing has appeared in the New York Observer, GQ, and Harper’s Bazaar.