The UCSB philosophy major emerges as one of Trump’s keenest critics.
By Kelsey Brugger ’13
On a hot New York day in early July, Katy Tur ’05 retreated to her office just minutes after her 2 p.m. cable news show. The MSNBC news anchor wore a navy blue dress and an off-white blazer. Papers scattered her desk; a cup of lukewarm black coffee sat between a keyboard and her lips. Adrenaline appeared to still be in her system.
“Did you see the end of the show?” she asked her publicist as we both settled into office chairs. He nodded his head “no.” “What happened at the end of the show?” I wanted to know. She gave me a sly smile.
The newsroom of MSNBC — which has emerged as a popular cable channel, fueled by its adversarial relationship with the Trump White House — was fairly nondescript. Several news reporters slouched in front of computer screens. Inside, Tur’s small office was similarly plain. Not much caught my eye, save for a “Women For Trump” poster sitting on a shelf behind her desk.
“Where’d you get that?” I asked. She said that she picked it up somewhere along the campaign trail. Pulling it off the shelf, she revealed a “Hispanics For Trump” poster hiding behind it. “I thought that they were the most interesting,” she said.
Tur has emerged as a highly visible skeptic at a time when the Trump administration is ridiculing members of the press. In the early summer of 2015, the then 31-year-old suddenly found herself covering Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. She had spent the two years prior as a NBC foreign correspondent in London.
The gig was expected to last six weeks. But instead she spent 18 months covering the presidential candidate. She visited 40 states, and gave nearly 4,000 live broadcast reports. It didn’t take long for Trump to famously call her out by name while using words such as “disgraceful,” “not nice,” and “third-rate.” She pushed back, stubbornly reporting the facts of the most unorthodox presidential campaign in American history.
“People felt like they were going to the hot show in their town that night.
It wasn’t a movie. It wasn’t a concert. The hot ticket was Donald Trump.”
—Katy Tur '05
After Trump won the election in November 2016, she chronicled the adventure in her new book, “Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History,” which was released in September. “I was in my pajamas every weekend,” she said of her time writing. “I didn’t shower. I was disgusting. I haven’t had much of a life.”
When I asked what it was like getting to know Donald Trump, Tur did not hesitate. “Fascinating,” she blurted out. “He is a fascinating human being, and fascinating political figure. The normal political rules have not applied.”
Trump got away with saying things that no one else would have, she added. “People felt like they were going to the hot show in their town that night,” she said. “It wasn’t a movie. It wasn’t a concert. The hot ticket was Donald Trump.”
Growing up in Los Angeles, Tur was no stranger to the news business. She was raised by parents who were TV news reporters. They covered fires and riots from a helicopter. She said she embraced the news at a young age, but rebelled against it as a teenager. “I didn’t want a camera in my face. There are very few photos of me between the ages of nine and 17,” she said, adding, “I went through puberty poorly.”
When she enrolled at UC Santa Barbara in 2001, Tur decided to study philosophy. She entertained the idea of going to med school but quickly determined she was “terrible at chemistry.” “I got weeded out pretty quickly,” she joked.
She considered law school. “I kind of love arguing,” she said. “I thought a good way to go to law school would be philosophy. I’d always been interested in philosophy. I like the deeper thoughts about why are we here, are we really here, is any of this real? What can we trust?”
“UCSB is a giant school but the philosophy department is really intimate so you really get to know everybody within it,” she said. “It’s a slightly different culture within the school community. I loved.”
Tur lived in the dormitory then known as Francisco Torres — now Santa Catalina — and in an apartment on Estero during her sophomore year. She moved to downtown Santa Barbara for her junior and senior year. “I wasn’t an I.V. kid,” she said.
After graduating in 2005, Tur reconsidered law school. “I thought I could sit at a desk for the rest of my life doing some sort of legal work but I don’t want to do that. I like to be out in the world,” she recalled. “I want to be on the front lines.”
Yet in her core she is a questioner. In her Twitter profile, she quotes: “Don’t believe the florist when he tells you that the roses are free.” And even though she deviated from her plan to go to law school, she said, “I think my degree has been really helpful.”
After college, Tur relocated to New York City, where she landed an anchoring job at a local TV station. In 2009, NBC hired her, and apart from a two-year stint overseas, she has lived in New York for 10 years.
In that decade, she experienced some difficulties as a young woman in the media business. But she explained: “We are lucky enough to have one of the biggest and the best barrier breaking women there is — that is Andrea Mitchell. She’s just incredible. I think there are still challenges that we face that men don’t face. For a time in my career, it was really hard for anyone to say anything to me but to comment on my looks or what I was wearing. I still get that but now it’s more substance.
“When you are younger you often get assigned the feature stories as opposed to the hard feature stories. It’s difficult. I think we are making a lot of strides. I’m happy that the news business has come as far as it has and I don’t feel like having the body parts I have is inhibiting me from following my passions.”
As for what happened at the end of the show that hot July day, I never found out.