Zibby is joined by broadcast journalist, correspondent, and MSNBC anchor Katy Tur to discuss her latest memoir, Rough Draft. While Katy’s first book—a New York Times bestseller—focused on her time covering Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, her new project takes readers into her life growing up as the daughter of two journalists as she worked to make her own name in the industry. Katy tells Zibby what it was like to abruptly shift from an international to a political correspondent, how she’s processing the abusive behavior she witnessed in her childhood, and the effect she hopes this book will have on her family as well as readers everywhere.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Katy. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Rough Draft.

Katy Tur: I appreciate you having me. I’m excited to talk.

Zibby: I have to say, I did not realize until I read about it in the book, about Trump’s particular focus on you. I was reading it all weekend. I told my husband about it. He’s like, “Let’s just look it up.” Then we watched the footage when he was like, “Little Katy.” I was like, oh, my gosh, this is nuts.

Katy: You were not cable news junkies during 2016, clearly.

Zibby: No.

Katy: At least, not MSNBC cable news junkies.

Zibby: Yeah, sorry about that. Why don’t we just jump in and start there? Then I really want to talk about your parents because I found their story just absolutely fascinating. How did you get to the point in your life where you already wrote a whole book about this, which now I want to go back and read, where you ended up in that position? How did you even handle that?

Katy: Unbelievable, the last book, is a really fun read. I actually picked it up the other day. I thought, oh, wow, I did a good job with this, which I’m excited by. Usually when I read old writing, I’m horrified. My parents were journalists. I grew up in journalism. I wanted to have a big global adventure. I rose up in the ranks from local to network. Then I got the network. I moved away to London and had the entire world as my coverage zone. I was going to Surabaya, Indonesia, and and Singapore and Thailand and Rome and Budapest. I’ll go on and on and on. I just had this incredible position as a foreign correspondent. Then I came home one weekend to remind New York that I existed still because sometimes they can forget about you when you’re not in their face. At the very same time, this would-be candidate for president descended a set of gold stairs, escalator, and told everybody that he was running and that Mexicans were rapists and some were good people. It caused a big kerfuffle. NBC said, “Why don’t you cover Donald Trump for a few weeks? It’ll only be a few weeks.” Nobody thought that the campaign would go anywhere. “Then you’ll go back to London.” I said, “Sure.” A few weeks turned into 510 days living out of a suitcase, losing my apartment overseas and my post overseas, gaining a job in politics and eventually an anchoring spot, and finding the love of my life in my husband. Now everything has changed. Certainly, not the path I thought I would be on, but I can’t complain about it. I got very lucky.

Zibby: Wow, that is a story. Why do you think — I know you wrote about this. You were really just texting to take notes of whatever Trump was saying. He thought you weren’t paying attention. Then why do you think there was this fascination? Why did he keep talking about you in all this footage and everything?

Katy: I think that part of it was he saw me being there covering him as NBC News taking him seriously. I was the first full-time network correspondent to be on his campaign. I also think that he was confident that he would be able to charm me, charm me into just repeating whatever he wanted repeating. I think he ultimately likes a bit of banter. Not banter. He likes — I don’t even know how to describe it, the bouncing ball back and forth. He likes to spar. I think part of it was because I was the first one there, part of it was because I was a woman, and then the desire to spar.

Zibby: That is such a wild ride that you went on.

Katy: It was wild. It was really interesting. It was scary at times. Most of all, it was captivating to watch this country change. No matter what you think of how it turned out, it was captivating to watch this country change. It’s scary looking back on it, especially because we have so many people in this country who have decided that they don’t want to participate in democracy any longer. They want election results to be overturned. They believe lies. It’s scary. It was the cusp of a very scary time that we are currently living in.

Zibby: Trump, of course, so famously loathed journalists and thought that the media never — it was all fake news and blah, blah, blah. Yet there you are trying to report the news. How did that feel?

Katy: He loathed journalists, but he was desperate for attention. I don’t necessarily think that he loathed us either. I think he likes the bright lights. He likes the focus being on him. Reporters gave him that. It was weird. It was definitely a really weird experience. It was not like any political campaign anyone has covered. It was not like a story I’d ever covered. At times, it got scary in terms of my own personal safety and for my colleagues. There were moments where we didn’t feel comfortable. We all, at the end of it, ended up having armed security with us, former secret service agents who would be by our side wherever we went because there were threats.

Zibby: Wow. You come by this living on the edge, if you will, earnestly through your parents and their adventures. I loved learning about the rise of even helicopter coverage, breaking news, how the team of them really reshaped things. The image of your mom when your dad was covering a fire and she was in this car with the gas not properly — basically, this Molotov cocktail. He was just so in it and running in. She was there with her head bent over. It was such a vivid scene. I was just like, oh, my gosh, this woman. I probably didn’t explain that well enough to people listening. There is a scene in which Katy talks about her parents and her — they started young, right? Your mom was — how old was she?

Katy: My dad was eighteen. My mom was twenty-three.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, crazy.

Katy: Very young.

Zibby: They decided to get into this coverage by this — it was this magnetic draw to adrenaline and disaster. Your dad especially, this is a total prefrontal cortex, lack of development response. This is why people can’t drive a car until they’re twenty-five. He’s running into flames. She, a little bit older, is thinking — anyway, but also putting them at risk in the pursuit of news, which essentially is what’s happened with you, I found —

Katy: — I think I saw what they did and kind of just assumed that part of the job was that you run headfirst into danger. You were going to be threatened as a journalist. They had death threats after they covered the LA riots. My dad slept with a gun under his pillow. I talk about that in the book. I think part of me just subconsciously thought, well, this is what happens. People hate you so much that sometimes they want to hurt you.

Zibby: You mention that he gave you a gun when you went to college. You just put it under your pillow or something.

Katy: Oh, my god. I totally forgot about that until I started writing the memoir. I buried it. I grew up shooting guns. He would take me to the shooting range. It was a great bonding experience growing up. Looking back on it, I have some questions. When I went to college — there’s a lot that leads up to this. Not to just throw it out there willy-nilly, but he handed me my grandmother’s silver revolver. He said, “Keep it with you for protection.” It wasn’t loaded. I just remember taking it and saying, “Yeah, okay.” I put it in my bedside table at my dorm room, which is completely insane. I forgot about it. I totally forgot it was there. Didn’t tell anyone about it. It was buried under a bunch of stuff. I realized it was there when we moved. I gave it back when I moved to another house. Looking back and thinking about that now as an adult who has her own kids, it’s the most bonkers. I was worried about putting it in the book because I thought people might think that I was nuts.

Zibby: No.

Katy: A lot of people might think I was nuts.

Zibby: It didn’t make you seem nuts because you so clearly outlined all the things that led up to this being a moment that didn’t even cause you to blink an eye. It made total sense. I feel like that out of context would be very different. Once you’ve seen, you’re like, oh, yeah, sure. Of course, you would do that. She’d be like, okay. You got picked up out of your bed to go fly in a helicopter and cover news things all the time. It’s quite a childhood, all that.

Katy: It was a really wild childhood, definitely.

Zibby: You wrote a lot about — not a lot. You wrote very well about your dad’s abusive tendencies and later explained your understanding of that in the context of what happened afterwards. Even the external, all the people who could overhear some of the violence and the footage that you listened to with your dad literally attacking your mom, that was intense. How did you experience that even writing it and reliving it and now past the age that they were to know what it must have been like for your mom?

Katy: Looking at that and hearing it, it’s twofold. One, as a daughter, it’s visceral. It reminded me a lot of the scary moments of my childhood. It really brought me back to a dark place. Then also, in this moment that we’re living in, the idea that — it just wouldn’t happen now, where somebody in a prominent position would be on tape recorded being not just verbally abusive, but you could hear the physical assault on tape. That tape would be on the internet. Somebody would’ve put it out there. Even if they didn’t have the guts to confront it directly or by name, somebody anonymously would get it out there. It would be a known thing. It would’ve been very difficult for the family. It would’ve been destructive for us in terms of the ability to make money, which is such an ugly idea. At the same time, it would’ve stopped it. It wouldn’t have kept going because it would’ve been out there. It was a different time. The internet wasn’t around. Abuse toward wives and women, while it wasn’t accepted, it wasn’t surprising. It was just kind of a thing that happened. It really got me when I got my first job in the news business. I walked into KTLA, a place that I had visited when I was a kid with my grandmother, to drop off tapes. This older assignment editor — he must have been in his sixties at the time, late fifties, sixties — walked up to me. He just looked at me. He said, “You’re Bob Tur’s daughter.” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I used to listen to him berate your mother on those tapes.” He just made a face and a noise, like, ugh. He walked away. I remember thinking, oh, my god. I remember being horrified that everybody knew and thinking that nobody did anything.

Zibby: Yeah, nobody did anything.

Katy: At the time, it didn’t even occur to me that nobody did anything. At the time, it was more, oh, my god, everybody knows our ugly family secrets. It’s hard. It was really hard writing about it. It’s hard talking about it. Between — not between us. I’ll tell anyone this. I am terrified about this book coming out. Everyone’s like, aren’t you so excited? I am suppressing a panic attack because it’s so personal. It’s so revealing. I hate the idea of abuse being a defining attribute of my existence. I really hate the idea of my mom having to live it again. I am scared about hurting my dad, if that makes sense, because my dad was and is — we don’t have much of a relationship now, but my dad was really fun growing up. My dad was my hero for a lot of my childhood. It’s hard to rectify, as I write in the book, the hero and the harm. It’s hard. It’s hard to juggle those two things and in one thought, think back at my childhood and miss it, really deeply miss it, and then in the next thought be sick to my stomach over it. It’s hard.

Zibby: Why do it?

Katy: The pandemic hit. A few reasons. One was, it’s a fascinating family history, and I wanted to get it down. Just as a journalist, I knew that I got to write this down because this is a great story. I also wanted my kids to have a piece of their family history on paper. My husband has a memoir about his also completely insane childhood. His dad was a drug dealer in Miami. They have that. I want them to have my side of it also. I want them to know more about me. I feel like Los Angeles is so much a part of my identity, but it’s lost. I’ve been here for so long in New York that that side of me, if I didn’t get it down, it would’ve disappeared.

Zibby: I wanted to know what streets in the Palisades because I spend a lot of time there. I was like, okay, where is this? I have a guess at this location. We can talk after. You don’t have to reveal.

Katy: There were many streets. I can tell you all of them. I love the Palisades.

Zibby: Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off. Wait, what is your husband’s book for people interested in that?

Katy: My husband’s is called The Last Pirate. He would roll his eyes at me talking about it.

Zibby: I asked. It’s not your fault.

Katy: It’s called The Last Pirate. It’s about growing up having no idea who his dad was after the age of — well, no idea, period. When he was ten, his dad disappeared. His mom just said, “Oh, I think he’s dead.” When he was in his twenties, he got curious. He started to dig around to find out what happened to him. He, on a lark, petitioned the National Archives to see if they had any information about Anthony Dokoupil. They sent him back thousands of pages of an indictment. It was the United States versus Anthony Dokoupil. It was the court case that landed him in prison. It was a ten-million-pound marijuana bust. It’s interesting. The whole thing starts out with him on a road trip with his mom after they had just dug up a cooler from his aunt’s backyard which contained $500,000 in cash, which he didn’t know about at the time. His mom didn’t tell him.

Zibby: Did they keep it?

Katy: They kept that, definitely.

Zibby: Okay, good.

Katy: Yes, definitely. They kept it. I wonder how they used it. I think they — yeah, they kept it. Anyway, so back to why I wrote this book. Everybody had an experience in the pandemic where they thought to themselves, because we were all so isolated and so forced to confront our lives, they thought, is this what I want to do with myself? Am I the person that I should be? In that forced state of self-reflection, I started to wonder if I really should’ve been a journalist. Did I become a journalist because I wanted to be a journalist, or did I become a journalist because my parents put me on that path? Then the country is falling apart. Is my job a good job? As in, am I doing good for society with my work? I questioned that. I got dark in my head. My mom sent me a hard drive containing all of the footage that she and my dad shot over the years. It was like my childhood in a box. I remember opening it up and looking through the videos and then being brought back into all of the complicated emotions that I felt and realizing that I couldn’t answer the question of where I’m going without looking at where I’d been. In order to do that, I could start going to therapy. I’d already done therapy when I was younger. I found it helpful but also hard because I’d just hysterically cry through every session. I could write it down. Writing Unbelievable was cathartic. It helped me get through the craziness of the 2016 election, and so I did it with Rough Draft. I have to say, it was a whole lot harder than writing about a contained experience. There were many moments where I thought, oh, my god, I shouldn’t do this. I should quit, but I didn’t. Now it’s all down. I think I feel better.

Zibby: It’s one thing to write it down. Then it’s another thing to decide to release it to the public. You could’ve kept it for your kids and just to work on your own mental health. There, at some point, is that decision, probably because it’s a such good book. You’re like, well, I better — that’s what I would think. Now I wrote it, and it’s really good. I better sell it.

Katy: To be honest, without the deadline and the pressure of a contract, I would’ve never done it. That’s how I operate. I would’ve never done it otherwise.

Zibby: What would happen that you would be like, that fear was unnecessary, I’m so glad I did it? In your best-case scenario, is it that other people who have experienced abuse in their families come to you and say, oh, my gosh, I feel understand, I feel less alone? It is getting critical acclaim for the book? What is it that would make it worth it to you to get over this fear if you knew it now?

Katy: I do hope that it helps some people. I feel it’s very presumptuous to say I wrote this to help other people. I’ve given it to a few people that I am close with or that I thought I knew well, some of my colleagues especially. They read it. They’ve said, “This is very familiar to me.” I was surprised by that. That made it feel better. Mostly, I’d like to come to some peace with my dad and that relationship.

Zibby: We didn’t even discuss one of the bigger pieces of your story, too, which is what’s happened with your dad and his — why don’t you tell that story? You told it really well in the book.

Katy: The pronouns get difficult here. Disclaimer that it’s hard for everybody. When I talk about my dad in the past, I use he. When I talk my dad in the present or post-2013, it’s she. My dad transitioned or began that process of transitioning in 2013. She called me and told me that she was making this decision while I was covering the Boston Marathon bombings. For me, it felt completely out of the blue. For her, it was certainly not. It was a moment where she said, “This is going to be great because this is the reason I have been so angry. This is where all my rage has come from. This means that everything’s better.” I said, “Okay, that’s great, but I do think we need to –” I had avoided doing this for so long because I knew that it was just lighting a match. I said, “I think we need to address some of the stuff that happened in my childhood that happened while I was growing up, the way that you treated mom and the way that you treated me and my brother. I just think we need to reckon with it if we really want to move forward and change and become the best versions or the most honest versions of ourselves.”

It was like lighting a match in a tinderbox. It blew up. Then I got the flames under control. She just didn’t want to address it. She just didn’t want to talk about it. It was okay. Then it wasn’t okay. We didn’t talk about it. We still really haven’t talked about it. It’s resulted in, on her side, some public blowups and jabs at me, which were really hurtful. I didn’t really want to get into any of it. I didn’t want to talk about the abuse, so I just shut up and didn’t say anything. I just didn’t feel like that was appropriate to be out there, this personal, private family stuff. I think I’m on the cusp of that generation where being tough was the most valued and prized attribute for a woman. I’m so tough. I can deal with this. I don’t need to talk about my vulnerability. I know that the generation or the women who are even slightly younger than me have a much better way of embracing their vulnerability and leading with it. I wasn’t in that space. I’m kind of rambling. I’ve been told that I ramble, so I’m sorry.

Zibby: That’s okay. It’s a podcast. This is the space for you to talk.

Katy: Yeah, I guess. It’s a podcast. That’s what happened with the relationship. We’re estranged. It takes two in any estrangement. I think there’s one in five people that have a close-family estrangement, which is a lot of people.

Zibby: That is a lot of people.

Katy: It’s both of us at this point. It just takes picking up a phone. Neither one of us is doing it for whatever reason.

Zibby: I wonder what will happen after this comes out, if the phone —

Katy: — I do too. I’m scared. I’m definitely scared.

Zibby: It’s pretty amazing that you’re doing it anyway. Writers who are scared and who are really putting it out there, those are the best stories to read, honestly. If you’re not taking risks, really, if you’re not going deep into the real stuff, the reader knows that. I think it’s a good sign, is all I’m trying to say. I have to say also, before I started this podcast, I would’ve thought abuse was X percent, and I now feel like it’s 10X percent, especially in memoir. Maybe there’s just something about the memoir genre or the people publishing memoirs. Maybe it’s not a fair representation, but there’s so much abuse going on.

Katy: Part of it is that it’s complicated. A lot of abuse, it’s not black and white where it’s like, this was an abusive person. They are awful. We need to condemn them to history.

Zibby: No, there’s love. Absolutely.

Katy: There is love there. The relationships are fraught. There is abuse, but then there’s also the kind words and the embraces and the fun. I think people don’t talk about it because they don’t want to wash away everything else, or they think to themselves, it wasn’t that big of a deal because look at all this other stuff, which I still think about.

Zibby: Have you read, I think it’s called Never Simple by Liz Scheier?

Katy: No, I have not.

Zibby: You might want to read it. It’s a memoir. It’s really interesting. Her mom had some mental illness. Even when we talked about it, she was like, “I hope I’m making clear I loved her even though it was so difficult.” It’s a very similar thing that you’re saying. When you expose the worst of people, you don’t want them — it’s the whole thing of, I can say my mom’s annoying, but I don’t want you saying my mom’s annoying.

Katy: Exactly. Yeah, of course.

Zibby: I’ll make fun of my brother, but you can’t make fun. Not that I’m making fun of my mom or my brother, but I certainly don’t want anyone else doing that.

Katy: You don’t want something to be painted with a very broad brush. I think we have a tendency in this moment that we’re in to just be very cut and dry about people, about things that were said. I find in my personal experience, it’s much harder than that.

Zibby: Katy, I think you have nothing to be scared of. I’m really excited for you. I do believe this is going to help a lot of people. I loved reading this book. I really couldn’t put it down and sincerely enjoyed it. Couldn’t wait to read it and then was not at all disappointed. I just thought it was great. Put on whatever fortification needed because it’s great. Congratulations.

Katy: Thank you so much. I’m so honored that you wanted to have me. I think you’re amazing. I love this podcast. I love the conversations you have. Thank you.

Zibby: Thank you. That made my day. Thanks so much. Hope our paths cross in person sometime.

Katy: See you later. Of course.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Katy: Bye, Zibby.


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