An Interview with NBC News Correspondent Katy Tur
This interview was conducted by The Fletcher Forum in conjunction with the Tufts Daily, the Tufts Observer, the Tufts Podcast Network, Tufts University Television and Senior Lecturer Professor Julie Dobrow.
Q: On the back of your book, it says that you led the first women-led politics team in the history of network news. What was that like and what did you learn from that experience?
KT: It was amazing. The team was all women, not by design, but by hard work. It was Hallie Jackson, Kasie Hunt, Andrea Mitchell, Kristen Walker, and me. We pounded the pavement, we built sources, and we devoted our lives to covering the 2016 campaign. We lived out of suitcases for a year and a half. In this moment, Donald Trump was accused by a number of women of harassment and misconduct, and he was saying demonstrably sexist things on the campaign trail. It was a nice dichotomy to have a strong, powerful group of women coming out and being the voice of journalism for 2016. He was going after journalists as well. It was a privilege to stand up and say that this is not the way it is, and to help inform the voters about who exactly they would be voting for in 2016.
Q: How do you think the election will set the precedent for future elections and how do you think the news coverage in the 2016 election will change public perceptions?
KT: Well [Trump is] definitely defying all norms. He’s cutting down institutions. He’s going after the judiciary, the Intelligence Community, his own party when he feels necessary, the media, our allies, and the voters who didn’t vote for him. He will go after anybody who doesn’t agree with him or who doesn’t praise him. How that’s going to affect 2020 remains to be seen, but right now we’re living in scary times because of the lack of accepted facts. We don’t have a shared set of facts any longer and, without that, it’s hard to tell where people will look to get their news or a report that they trust. It’s dangerous and it’s shortsighted.
What will 2020 in terms of coverage look like? I hope it looks like reporters talking to more people as opposed to just covering the horse race of politics. Politicians are obviously very newsworthy, but just as newsworthy are the people. What are people thinking, worried about, want to see change, and want to see stay the same? All of the factors that got Donald Trump elected are still there, so at this moment, it’s not unreasonable to say that Donald Trump has a very good chance of getting reelected in 2020.
Q: Have you found social media to be a huge part of how people consume information?
KT: People are getting a lot of information from social media, absolutely. In some ways, it’s great, as you can get real-time information. If I’m not at a rally or an event, or I’m not listening to the press briefing, I can go to my Twitter feed and find out what’s happening. I know which posts and which Twitter users are going to be more accurate than others. I know what might not sound right, and I’ll think, “I need the context of where that was said.” But I’m an extraordinarily educated media consumer because I work in the business. It’s hard to tell who’s trustworthy on Twitter unless it’s somebody that you follow all the time, unless you’re really educated about who’s saying what. A blue check mark is not going to do that. Facebook is another place where it’s really hard, because you have news feeds full of information, some of it true, some of it false. But it’s up to us to be critical of everything that we read and to get as many opinions as possible to make a decision for ourselves.
Q: We understand that you were the lucky individual who got to tell the Trump Campaign that NBC had the Access Hollywood tape. Could you tell us how that went?
KT: It was a surreal moment. You couldn’t see the people behind the voices, but Donald Trump’s voice is so singular, you recognize it immediately. I had to write it up for broadcast for MSNBC as quickly as possible. In order to get it on the air, we needed to at least try to get a comment from the campaign. So I wrote an email that said something to the effect of, “NBC News has obtained a copy of a tape with Donald Trump on a hot mic in 2005 being interviewed by Billy Bush. He brags about having sex with a married woman. Oh, and he also brags about grabbing women by the pussy. Do you have a comment? Is any of this incorrect? Best, Katy.” I couldn’t sugarcoat it. They never responded. We, as in the American people, didn’t get an official response until later that evening. [Trump] goes on Facebook and it looks like he’s in a hostage video being forced to apologize. At the end, like clockwork, he points to Bill and Hillary Clinton. So, it was an apology with an asterisk next to it. A qualified apology.
Q: In some countries, there is no freedom of press. Do you feel that the political environment during the 2016 election, and the Trump Campaign in particular, affected the freedom of the press in the United States?
KT: Yes, I do. You come from a place [Ecuador] where you know what it’s like to be unable to speak your mind. You can risk your life for that. Social media can be helpful in situations like that, but it’s still dangerous. In this country, we have a long history of freedom of the press. It’s built into our constitution. It’s not that it hasn’t been fraught—there’s been push and pull on the freedom of the press for a long time. Politicians don’t generally like what reporters say because reporters push back on them and correct their spin. It’s always been a contentious relationship, but the degree to which Donald Trump went after us is new. If you want to go after me, you don’t agree with my reporting, I don’t care. But when you tear down all of us, you’re tearing at the fabric of what makes us great, and I don’t use that word lightly.
Q: Given this current culture of fake news, do you think this is an exciting time for journalists to be getting into the field, or is the public increasingly hostile?
KT: Journalism is most exciting when it’s scary. We have certainly been seeing a hostile environment, but subscriptions to newspapers are up, and viewers on cable news are up. People are engaged, and that is great. There’s a market for [journalism] in a way that there hasn’t been, and there’s some really great investigative journalism coming out every day, from the The New York Timesand the Washington Postto Politico, CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, and even Fox. There’s great stuff coming out of regional papers, for example the Boston Herald. That being said, while some papers are hiring, the Los Angeles Timesand the Denver Postare cutting back. [The American people] need to read newspapers, watch television, subscribe to podcasts, and make podcasts. Engage, get involved, and encourage everyone to get involved. When you lose the newspapers, broadcast journalism, and the people who are informing you, that sets you down a very slippery slope and you’ll ultimately find yourself at the worst end of things.
Q: During the campaign, you were singled out and targeted by Donald Trump. Do you think that was because of your gender?
KT: I hate that question. Everybody asks that question. I think it’s a sexist question. [Trump] went after men, too. You can speculate on the reasons why [he went after me more than he went after anybody else], but I was the first person from a network assigned to Donald Trump full time, so I was there longer than anybody else. We developed a push-pull relationship early on, and I also come from a network at which he used to work [NBC]], so I think he thought that NBC should be a friendlier place for him. I don’t think he’s underestimating me any longer.
Q: I want to ask you about resilience—that’s an issue that touches on everything we’ve talked about today, including free speech and media consumers, and it is relevant in the context of Mark Zuckerberg’s recent testimony on the Hill. What is the purpose of a platform like Facebook, and at the end of the day, when these platforms can be manipulated, how can media be resilient and how should media in the United States respond when it’s under attack?
KT: It’s complicated. Resilience is about sticking up for our values and our mission as journalists. There’s also the financial aspect of it. We have PBS [in America], but we don’t have a system like in the UK where you have to pay a fee if you’re consuming any type of broadcast, and that’s how they’re able to continue doing journalism. We’re mostly financed by corporations and billionaires. Is that business model going to be sustainable? I don’t know. Is Facebook going to undercut it? I don’t know. The resilience factor, I think where it’s most important, is not just a resilience among journalism, but a resilience among the American people. Resilience should be shared among all of us. If you’re worried about the state of our country, then consume. If you’re worried about facts not mattering, make sure they matter. Have conversations with people you don’t agree with. Enlighten where you can. Learn and understand where you can. If you’re on Facebook and you see something that’s just factually incorrect, and you know it’s incorrect, check it. Try to understand everybody, because often there isn’t just one answer to something, but multiple answers. I think we’re at a point where we’re not listening to each other and a lot of disagreements come from a place of misunderstanding.
Q: What’s your advice to budding journalists about trying to get into the field?
KT: The best piece of advice I got was from a mentor of mine was, “it only takes one person to say yes,” as in, “you’re going to get a lot of noes.” You’re going to have a lot of people tell you no, but only one person needs to tell you yes. When you get that yes, run with it, and look for your next yes. You might think that at some point you’ll stop looking for your next yes, but you never will. You’ll continue fighting for whatever you have in your head. Don’t get down if you get rejected. Pick yourself up, submit again. Take a job at a smaller place, work your way up, and take criticism to heart. Learn from it.
Courtesy of Michael Vadon / Flickr
About the Interviewee
Katy Tur is an NBC News Correspondent and anchor of the 2 p.m. ET hour of “MSNBC Live.” She emerged as a breakout broadcaster in 2016 while covering the entirety of the Trump campaign across all platforms for NBC News and MSNBC.
Prior to joining NBC News’ 2016 political team, Tur was stationed abroad as a foreign correspondent in the NBC News London Bureau. From 2012 to 2014, Tur was a correspondent in the NBC News New York bureau, where she earned a Gracie award.
Tur released “Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History” in September 2017, which debuted on the New York Times best seller list.