Katy Tur in Conversation with Tom Johnson
Friday, Oct. 13, 7 p.m.
Montclair Public Library, 50 South Fullerton Ave.
Free, registration required, at http://bit.ly/2xejTg4 or call 973-744-0500, ext. 2235
Books available from Watchung Booksellers
Note: Reserved seats are free and funded in part by Pollack Financial Group. All reserved seats are now taken and there will not be a waitlist. We always have people who register but do not attend. Any unclaimed seats will be made available on a first-come, first served basis in the cafe area 10 minutes before the start of the event.
By GWEN OREL
When Trump first called her out she was surprised.
Katy Tur hadn’t realized he even knew her name.
She was new to the campaign and, visiting from her post as an NBC London correspondent, had happened to be visiting New York City to do a story when Trump came down the escalator and declared he was running.
As Tur writes in her new book, “Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History,” “NBC needed a reporter to cover it for a few days.”
When the assignment became “permanent,” it was expected to last a summer, just six to eight weeks.
Accepting even that short job meant sacrificing an Italian vacation with her French boyfriend.
Not long after, they broke up.
But Tur got a book out of it. It is currently number two on the New York Times Bestseller List, right after Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened?”
Tur will appear at the Montclair Public Library on Oct. 13, in conversation with longtime news producer Tom Johnson, as part of the Montclair Public Library & Foundation’s Open Book/Open Mind Series.
Tur said in an email that she realized on the road she might have a story.
“Early on, I thought about taking notes because the campaign trail was so new to me, but I didn’t think I would write a book until Marie Claire approached me for a first-person account of life on the road. They liked my tweets, the editor said.
“I ended up submitting three-thousand words. I had something like 67,000 more words in my head. The sheer absurdity of living out of a suitcase and routinely eating donuts for dinner while trying to make sense of Donald Trump, the reality show star turned presidential front-runner, couldn’t be confined to a couple pages of a magazine. I had a feeling that regardless of how election night turned out, someone needed to document the journey.”
The book narrates the campaign, including “backstage” details of the life of the correspondents known as “road warriors”: the time someone slid down an airplane aisle on a tray as the plane ascended, and stopped halfway. The judge-y looks of a waitress when Tur and her crew ordered a lot of fried food at a South Carolina restaurant.
These anecdotes intrigued Tom Johnson, a Montclairite who won Peabody, Emmy, DuPont and Edward R. Murrow awards during two decades at ABC News. More recently, Johnson has worked as executive editor of Bloomberg Politics and as producer of Showtime’s weekly documentary series, “The Circus: Inside the Biggest Story on Earth.”
“I have been on the road during a campaign, but haven’t covered it anywhere near what she’s doing,” Johnson said. “I’m usually the producer on the other end trying to put the program together.” Reading Tur’s take on dealing with studio heads,and go live, every little detail that that entails, fascinated him.
Tur, at one point, turns her phone off to take a yoga class.
“She turns it back on to find the entire world has shifted!” Johnson said. “She had 30 emails from people saying, ‘Where are you?’”
Things can turn on a dime. In this era of absolutely live, instantaneous news, they need you to be able to quickly confirm things and add your analysis to it.News comes in split seconds now, he said.
Even when she slept, Johnson supposed, Tur probably had “a certain level of consciousness still on Twitter.”
TALKING IT OVER
At the library, Johnson will talk with Tur about her perspective as an NBC correspondent and MSNBC anchor about “asking tough questions of the candidate and being called out on a national stage by that candidate, finding composure and
carrying right on and asking more tough questions.”
Johnson also wants to dig into what she saw on the ground that made her call the election for Trump, when nobody else did.
“She was seeing a connection between him and the crowd, sort of a visceral connection. People talked about it, the size of the crowds he was pulling, the enthusiasm of his crowds, maybe there was a telltale sign that there was an upset brewing.”
He’ll also dig into how she developed her sources.
But he won’t only be talking about 2015 and 2016: Tur’s experience makes her an expert not just on what happened last year, but also on what is happening now. “She’s just spent more than a year of her life living and breathing all things Donald Trump.
“She may have a good perspective on the ways in which he reacts to things and what that tells her about truth or misinformation, how he has reacted to the unfolding Russia investigation. She may have insight about what that tells us about where he’s going.
“She talks about almost being able to complete his sentences. She knew his stump speech almost by heart.”
Johnson will ask her about the administration’s other fights, for example, the desire to repeal and replace ACA, and whether Trump can still connect to his base as he did on campaign.
Tur’s book about the travails of a campaign written by reporters in the field is part of a genre, Johnson said. The details are grueling, but, in their own way, glamorous, like stories from war correspondents.
Her story reveals an endurance test, that will “inspire reporters, young journalists who want to be the point person for media.”
Johnson was a history major at Lafayette College when he interned at CBS news one summer and decided to make journalism his life.
It was the summer of 1992, and he got to help cover Bill Clinton’s campaign in New York City.
“That solidified it for me, that this is what I want to do.” He tells interested young people, “You’ve got to be willing to make sacrifices. There are overnight shifts. Weekend shifts. Let’s talk about that.”
He never wanted to be in front of the camera. Television news is a collaborative enterprise, with everyone “rowing in the same direction,” he said.
Being on the road is “an insane schedule, you upend your life to do it.”
But the reward is “you become an expert on this campaign, and this campaign in many ways is a test of the candidate who wants to be the next president of the United States.
“It’s an opportunity to really become expert on a candidate who may become president.
“That is a huge deal.”
Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollinsPublishers
Trump Victory Party
New York Hilton Midtown
10:59 P.M., Election Day
I’m about to throw up.
I’m standing on the press riser at Donald Trump’s New York City Election Night headquarters. Fox News is playing on two big-screen televisions, framing a stage covered with American flags and punctuated by two glass cases, each containing a MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hat. At the center, there’s an empty podium gathering historical significance by the second.
“We have a big call to make right now,” says Megyn Kelly, on the screen alongside Bret Baier.
As the clock strikes 11 P.M., the Fox camera pans across the studio to a jumbotron to reveal an oversized yellow check mark next to Donald Trump’s grinning portrait and a picture of the state of Florida. Trump has just won it, along with all twenty-nine of its electoral votes. The ballroom crowd of staffers, super supporters, and volunteers goes absolutely wild. The journalists in the room fall silent.
If the future is a blank sheet of paper, this news rips it in two.
My phone vibrates. And vibrates again. It doesn’t stop.
“Holy shit, you called it!” flashes a text from a friend who had been insisting, like nearly all the polls on Planet Earth, that Hillary was a lock. I pick up my phone and check the New York Times election forecast. After predicting a Clinton victory for months, it has flipped. Trump has a 95 percent chance of winning the election, it says. Only two hours ago, Hillary Clinton had an 85 percent chance.
Holy shit. I did call it.
In the seventeen months before now, I visited more than forty states, filing more than thirty-eight hundred live TV reports. I did all that as the Trump correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC, and I did it with one audience in mind: the American voter. My goal was to explain what Trump believed in and how he would govern if elected. The job came with all the usual hardships of the campaign trail plus a few new ones, such as death threats and a gazillion loops of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” a staple of Trump’s campaign rallies. I am proud of the work I’ve done but also quite ready for it to be over, thank you very much.
Ali Vitali weaves her way over to me on the crowded riser. She’s been NBC’s Trump embed since early on, a job that means not only attending virtually every campaign event, but also recording it for posterity. “Katy!” she says, with desperation in her voice. I am not prepared for the news she’s about to deliver.
“Katy!” she says again. “He’s going to keep doing rallies.”
At first I don’t understand her. He’s going to be president—why would he keep doing campaign rallies?
“Trump,” Ali says. “He’s already planning victory rallies.”
My head is a helium balloon.
The panic mounts.
I am nearly falling over.
More taunting crowds, more around-the-clock live shots, more airports, more earsplitting Pavarotti . . . I can’t. I just can’t.
The room goes wavy. My stomach churns. Lights flash in my eyes.
I’m never going on vacation. I’m never seeing my friends. I’m never getting my bed back. My brutal, crazy, exasperating year with Trump is going to end—by not ending at all. Trump will be president. The most powerful person in the world. And I will be locked in a press pen for the rest of my life. Does anyone really believe he’ll respect term limits? I have a vision of myself at sixty, Trump at a hundred, in some midwestern convention hall. The children of his 2016 supporters are spitting on me, and he is calling my name: “She’s back there, Little Katy! She’s back there.”