The Hippo


May 26, 2020








Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, by Katy Tur
(Dey Street, 291 pages)


Katy Tur was not a political reporter. When the presidential primaries really started ramping up in 2015, she was living in Europe with her boyfriend and reporting on human interest stories. Her NBC boss called her home to report on Trump’s candidacy announcement and campaign. There were so many candidates that the best reporters were already assigned to others, and NBC needed people to cover the lesser-known candidates. 
Don’t worry, Trump is a flash in the pan, you’ll be back in Europe in a few weeks, Tur was assured by her boss.
As we all know, that’s not exactly how things turned out. 
Unbelievable is Tur’s retelling of her many months on the road following the Trump campaign. She watched his popularity grow, she watched his base speak out, and she saw how Trump’s message changed to match what his audience wanted. 
Tur was also there when Trump first started accusing the press of being dishonest. During an early campaign stop, Trump specifically called out Tur as an example of dishonest media. Like a cat playing with a mouse, Trump would continue to call her out to embarrass her one day and be charming to her the next, she writes. By the time election night came around, Tur was getting security protection from the Trump supporters who threatened to hurt her at each event. 
A book about a reporter living and breathing a candidate’s presidential campaign would be interesting enough (we hear about almost missed flights, dinners of peanut butter crackers, and buying the same sweater in several colors so that she is always “camera ready”), but this book takes it quite a bit further by giving us an intimate and unfiltered account of what it was like to report on a candidate who followed no rules. 
Instant fact checking became imperative as Trump spouted lie after lie. Threats were made, fights at rallies became the norm, as did the crowd turning in unison to the press pen where, directed by Trump, they would hiss, boo and raise collective middle fingers to the reporters. 
Tur had a front row seat for the entire campaign. During a one-on-one interview with Trump, Tur gives us this insight. 
“And he’s orange. There is no other way to describe him. He’s the color of orange marmalade, perhaps a shade darker, like marmalade on toast. He adjusts his jacket and then adjusts it again in a losing effort to keep the flaps down and the tie in place. But he doesn’t button it. 
He also doesn’t say hello, exactly, but sort of sings it. 
He smiles and squints, and the sound seems to slip out the side of his face. His voice is lilting, almost cartoonish. We shake hands — and I go to take my seat. 
Trump looks confused. 
“Don’t you want a picture?” he asks me, as if he doesn’t know why I haven’t suggested it yet. “Come here, Katy.” 
Unbelievable is a fascinating account of what shouldn’t have happened in America but did. It’s an important account of a period in America’s history that will be looked at from all angles.
The book could stand some improvements. Chapters switch between covering the campaign in the past and an almost hour-by-hour account of election night. The transitions are not as smooth as they could be and are in some cases jarring. 
Also, there is a difference between a reporter and a writer. A reporter must be unbiased, presenting only the facts. A writer is free to be as biased and give as much personal information as they like in their role of storyteller. Tur’s book reads in some places like she’d written an article first and then went back to fill in some personal facts and opinions to make it look more “personal.” 
And there is a bit of repetition. It’s not horrible but it’s noticeable enough to take you out of the story. It’s nothing that a good editor wouldn’t have caught, but I have a feeling this book was rushed to press to catch the post-election interest wave. 
Bottom line? The writing is adequate but not great. The transitions between the two timelines used in the book are clunky. But the story itself is so compelling that it absolutely carries the book. You won’t find this story anywhere else. B 
— Wendy E.N. Thomas 

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