I picked this book up under the assumption that it was written by a magazine or newspaper reporter; I had never heard of Katy Tur because I don’t usually watch broadcast news. She is, in fact, a television journalist who anchors her own news program. I was quickly drawn in by her rugged, honest voice and her fascinating story. Her writing style for some reason reminded me of the voice of Claire Vaye Watkins in the novel I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness. Both women had (or have) dysfunctional fathers. Watkins’s father was a member of Charles Manson’s murderous cult until he got free and met her mother; Tur’s father was a hard-charging, risk-taking, award-winning, helicopter-flying newsman given to fits of rage during which he physically abused his wife and children. Eventually he blamed his violence on his testosterone, transitioned into a woman, and cut ties with his daughter.
Tur’s relationship with her father and other family members is one of the threads running through Rough Draft. However, the main storyline involves her relationship with her career. Her parents were legends in media circles, but in college Tur initially had her eyes on a career as a doctor or a lawyer. Inevitably, though, she turned to journalism as more than a career: a calling. She recounts her work with the Weather Channel, KTLA, News 12 Brooklyn, WPIX-TV, WNBC-TV, MSNBC, and NBC. For a time she was based in London and reported world events before relocating to New York. She is credited with being on the scene for many breaking news stories, but she became famous when she was assigned to Donald Trump’s unlikely presidential campaign. On multiple occasions during his rallies, Trump singled out Tur as a bad example of a reporter. She wrote a bestselling book describing her adventures on the campaign trail called Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History.
Tur goes on to tell of her marriage to Tony Dokoupil, another television journalist, and what it’s like to have children while being fully committed to her career. During the early days of COVID, when lockdown ensued and bodies “were being stacked in the back of refrigerated eighteen-wheelers,” Tur and her husband set up a studio in their basement and broadcast from there. That was a tragic, stressful time. The climax of the book, though, is Tur’s description of attempting to report on the electoral college returns on January 6th, 2021, while a mob violently stormed the Capitol. She qualifies her incredulity at the time by emphasizing that there were warning signs in the weeks leading up to the tragic event. She had fleeting feelings of wanting to get away, perhaps to relocate somewhere in Europe. But then she realized she had to stay and do the best she could. Her conclusion is that “our lives are one long rough draft” and “all we can do is try.”
Going back to the comparison I made earlier about Tur’s writing and Watkins’s, I think that both these highly skilled writers are strong but vulnerable. The strength comes through, but so do the weaknesses that make us all human. In this memoir, Tur blends her often tumultuous background with her equally tumultuous professional life, and what results is a compelling, absorbing read.