On the shelf
By Katy Tur
Atria: 272 pages, $28
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Katy Tur grew up in a helicopter. The MSNBC reporter and anchor is the daughter of Zoey Tur and Marika Gerrard, founders of the Los Angeles News Service. The couple gained notoriety for their gonzo helicopter coverage of the 1992 LA riots and the OJ Simpson Bronco chase.
Tur’s new memoir, Rough Draft, explores that professional lineage, but also delves into areas she never thought she’d speak publicly about. She claims her father was both verbally and physically abusive. “I once tried to make a list of the many things my father threw at my mother,” she writes. “Once she was wearing sunglasses when he hit her, driving fragments of the lens into the soft skin of her eye socket.”
Gerrard and Tur eventually divorced; Tur later changed. Now Zoey Tur continues to work in the Los Angeles area. Tur writes that she was happy that Zoey became who she always thought she was supposed to be. But along with the transition came Zoey’s new attitude: She couldn’t be blamed for anything she’d done before. She also told the tabloids Katy turned her down because she was transgender — an allegation Katy denies.
In recent years, Tur has moved on: she married, had two children, became a presenter on MSNBC Live. And like all of us, she survived the pandemic. But when a documentary about her parents, Whirlybird, premiered in 2021, the old footage brought back memories. All of this — the pandemic, motherhood, the state of the news business, and the new publicity about her family — converged in “Rough Draft.”
Tur spoke to The Times via Zoom late last month about growing up in chaos, coming to terms with it and her unresolved relationship with her father. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
You grew up with two parents whose careers were built on adrenaline. In your memoirs, you write about how, in your youth, you sought the first thrill on the screen. Has that changed over the years?
Now that I’m a mother, I react much more emotionally to difficulties and tragedies. I think it takes empathy to be a reporter, but I also had the ability to distance myself from some stories. When I was pregnant with my first child, I found myself truly connected to tales of woe. Ukraine was very difficult to cover.
But as far as adrenaline goes, I still want to understand the story 100%. I’ll sprint to the crime scene if I can. It’s hands down the best part of the job. I love it when everything falls apart around me. I don’t like the story, but as a breaking news broadcaster, I love finding out in real time.
Do you think your ability to deal with chaos stems from the chaos of your childhood?
It was messy. And my parents also excelled in chaos, police pursuits and breaking news. It was wild. It was a huge adventure and it could be a lot of fun. Growing up, it was so ingrained in me that work life was like this.
When I went to college, I thought I would be a doctor or a lawyer. But if I wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to be an emergency doctor. I wanted it to be pretty messy anyway. That’s when I’m the calmest. That was one of the main reasons I was so attracted to it when I decided to go into news.
And then, in moments of self-reflection like we’ve had during the pandemic, I thought, ‘Wait. Hold tight. Was that really what I was supposed to do?”
And it got you started on the memoir.
Everyone was in that lonely moment where we all wondered, ‘Am I going to keep my job? Will my marriage be okay? Do I want to do this professionally? Will the world be right? Are we ever going to get out of this?” It puts death in front of your face. It says, “Do you want to die like this? You have lived your life so far. Is that good enough for you?”
I could only answer it by going through my childhood. It reminded me of an identity I had lost. It felt like when I left LA I lost that life and was trying to recreate it – but I found parts didn’t really fit anymore. It was nice to get a reminder of all the fun, but to reconnect I had to revisit all the other, darker times. The only way to really do it was to put it on the page.
You talk a lot about the isolation of the pandemic, but you were also in your 30s and reevaluating your career. Did your age have anything to do with it?
I think the pandemic was a big catalyst, but I also think – I turned 38 and my life fell apart. There was something superstitious about me where I started thinking like, “God, maybe my bosses hate me. [Laughs.] Maybe my colleagues hate me.” All these ugly, destructive thoughts started to enter my head. It reminded me of how my father used to think about people. It was very self destructive for Dad.
It was a combination of 38 years and a moment to reflect on my life, but then also amplified by the pandemic and the self-reflection that everyone has experienced. There’s also the documentary, and that was like lighting a match.
It sounded like you didn’t resist what Zoey Tur said publicly at the time — things about you and family. Is the book that answer?
I didn’t want to talk about any of this. I’m not sure if it was the right decision to talk about it. I’m afraid to sit here and do the interview with you. I’m afraid the book will come out because it’s deeply personal. It was ugly stuff.
My father had spoken a lot about our relationship in the press and it was really hurtful. I didn’t want to answer because I didn’t want it to be public. Then the documentary came out and a lot of it aired. I’m afraid my father will read it, but the book is not intended as an indictment. The book is intended as an honest account of a complicated experience.
I read it when you were trying to sort out that relationship with someone who basically wasn’t communicating with you.
I’m glad you said it that way – it was intentional. But you never know how it will come across on the page. It’s scary because I love my father. I love my father today and I love my father forever. I am sad that she misses so much in my life.
My fondest memories were with my grandparents and I wish my children knew their grandfather. Your grandfather would probably be the funniest person in your life. I mean she would probably be like my grandmother who was the funniest person in my entire life. And that sucks.
But it also sounds like a choice she’s making.
it makes me sad But you know what, I’m sure my dad feels like I did that. I’m obviously not perfect at it, and I hope I didn’t portray myself that way. Because I have a lot of questions about whether I could have done it differently. I just hope it gets better in the future.
Berry writes for a number of publications and tweets @BerryFLW.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2022-06-14/i-didnt-want-to-talk-about-any-of-this-msnbcs-katy-tur-opens-up-on-a-wild-childhood MSNBC host Katy Turr on a chaotic LA news-chasing childhood