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‘Come here, Katy’: how Donald Trump turned me into a target

Journalist Katy Turs new book, Unbelievable, covers the ever-deepening weirdness that developed between Donald Trump and her during the campaign

July, 2015

I wake up to sirens at 7.45am.

Damn New York City.

Not sirens. My alarm. I reach for the snooze button just as reality hits: my Trump interview is this afternoon. I should get some coffee and read the papers before I go in. I scroll through my emails to see whats happened overnight. And there it is: a note from Hope Hicks [Trumps press secretary]. Shes pushing up our interview, and not just a smidge. This is a four-hour adjustment, a swing from 2pm to 10am.

Motherfucking fuck, I yell, jumping out of bed. I really need to start waking up earlier.

I also need to stop going to bed at 2am. But right now I need to wash my hair, throw on a dress, and paint my face.

I hail a cab.

Trump Tower is a black, mirrored skyscraper that takes up half a block. The main entrance is campy, with an old-fashioned clock and white-gloved doormen in tails and gold-trimmed hats. More Disney than Dakota.

Hope Hicks appears, smiles, and gives us a two-minute warning. Trump is on his way.

Dont look nervous.

He lives and works upstairs, so I imagine he must have the timing of his golden elevator worked out to the second. At 10am, right on time, he emerges into the lobby alongside a tall, white-haired man in a black suit. He doesnt 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.

Dont you want a picture? he asks me, as if he doesnt know why I havent suggested it yet. Come here, Katy.

OK, this is awkward. I dont want a photo. I know that our every move is beaming live into 30 Rockefeller Center, NBC News headquarters, and that my bosses, watching in real time, will cringe to see me smiling like a fan girl next to my interview subject.

Im not sure its a good idea to tell him no but at the same time why in the world would he think I want a photo? Im not a fan. Im a journalist. This is a network news interview.

So I say yes. Maybe this is a mind game. Maybe Trump is trying to charm me, knock me off balance, confuse the point of this interview. Or maybe he just figures hes a bigshot celebrity and pre-interview photos are routine.

The shutter clicks and captures my bewildered grin.

We sit down. The camera crew is lining up the shot and double-checking the lighting. Theyre almost ready when Trump calls for a time-out.

Does that look good, Keith? he says to his bodyguard, the man in the dark suit with the white hair. Keith is looking into the monitor checking Trumps shot.

Hes my stylist slash beauty consultant, he jokes.

I had heard a rumor that Trump was finicky about his appearance. In one version of the story, he hired a makeup artist away from a TV network because she was wearing gloves as she worked. Trump thought she must be hygienic. In another, that same makeup artist always told him to request gold gels from the camera crew. Thin pieces of gold-tinted plastic placed over the lights that she said would give him a rich glow.

Keith says his boss looks good, but Trump wants to check for himself. Let me just see. Spin it, he says.

He scrutinizes his face on the screen and decides its OK. The crew spins the monitor back around. Trump looks back at me.

You know my whole life has been a win, you understand that, he says.

And so the interview begins.

OK.

My first question, I say. Why are we here in New York? Why arent we out on the campaign trail?

Oh, Ive been to Iowa many times, he says. Ive been to New Hampshire many, many times. Love the people there. And weve had tremendous success. Weve had tremendous crowds. Nobody gets as many standing ovations, and I spent a lot of time out. I was in South Carolina recently and were all over. Im going to, this weekend Ill be with Clint Eastwood in California, tremendous group of people

As a journalist, my job is to listen and probe, listen and probe.

As a human being, Im struggling to identify every ingredient in his word salad. Is that a tomato or a radish?

After my top five questions are in, I ask five more, and then five more.

Donald
Donald Trump speaks to NBC news correspondent Katy Tur on the golf course at his Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Twenty-nine minutes later, Ive asked all my prepared questions, and Im surprised he hasnt stopped me yet. Does he really want to keep talking? I cant tell. But I think Ive got plenty for the producers to work with, so after hes finished answering my last question I say, Thank you.

We shake hands and its over.

My muscles start to relax.

That went OK.

Wait. Did it?

Suddenly, Trump is yelling at me.

You better air that interview in full! he says. Youre going to edit it. Deceptive editing. I know what you guys do. Deceptive editing!

What is he talking about? Didnt we just shake hands? Did I do something wrong?

Its not up to me how much of the interview gets used, I say, but I know that we wont deceivingly edit you.

He isnt convinced. If you dont, he says, we have cameras in here; well release the full footage!

Huh?

The threat is weird. How would he get the audio of the interview, for one thing, and where are the cameras? I look up and I dont see any, unless he means the security footage. More important, why would that scare me?

You stumbled three times, he says.

He says it as if I killed a puppy.

It doesnt matter if I stumble. Im not running for president, I say.

Whats with the hostility?

He looks me straight in the eye and lands what he must think is the harshest insult of all: Youll never be president!

Neither will you.

Thankfully, I bite my tongue before the words are out. Hope Hicks interjects: Hes a presidential candidate. You cant speak like that to a presidential candidate. It isnt respectful.

5 December 2015

My six-week assignment is now six months of everdeepening weirdness between Trump and me. After the youll never be president episode, hes jogged between berating me and buttering me up.

Two days ago, the mood was more of a nightmare. Trump called me out on his Twitter four nastygrams in four minutes.

Dec 5, 2015 07:36:03 PM @KatyTurNBC, 3rd rate reporter & @SopanDeb @ CBS lied. Finished in normal manner&signed autos for 20min. Dishonest!

Dec 5, 2015 07:39:04 PM @Maddow, you copied incompetent @KatyTurNBC incorrect story. Im sure you would like to apologize to me on show. Thank you for the courtesy.

Dec 5, 2015 07:39:42 PM @Pimpburgh2015: @KatyTurNBC @realDonaldTrump just tweeted that you are a third rate reporter. Thats only because Im being nice!

Dec 5, 2015 07:40:17 PM @KatyTurNBC & @DebSopan should be fired for dishonest reporting. Thank you @GatewayPundit for reporting the truth. #Trump2016

Imagine someone calling you a liar. Now amplify the experience by a thousand if a presidential candidate calls you a liar. And tack on another factor of 10 if that presidential candidate is named Donald J Trump. Waves of insults and threats poured into my phone the device buzzing like a shock collar.

Republican
Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina. Photograph: ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock

He went on the attack as I was doing post-rally live shots in an emptied-out barn in Davenport, Iowa. He was mad about something that had happened a day earlier, when he abruptly left the stage at a rally in Raleigh, North Carolina. For the first time, protesters got coordinated. There were only a couple dozen of them, but they took turns holding up signs that read stop the hate and dump trump and yelling things like Black lives matter! as loud as they could. Five or so minutes after the first group got thrown out, another one would start in. In total, they managed to interrupt Trump 10 times in about an hour. By the fourth interruption, Trump had figured out their game.

Theyve got a strategy, he told a crowd of about 8,000 at the JS Dorton Arena, home to political rallies, sporting events, concerts, and circuses.

After the 10th interruption, I tweeted that Trump had abruptly stopped his stump speech and walked offstage to shake hands. He denied this plain-as-day observation. Then he launched his Twitter attack. I shouldve seen this coming. Hope Hicks sent me an email this morning.

On December 5, at 11.45am, Hope Hicks wrote: Katy, Mr Trump thought your tweets from last night were disgraceful. Not nice! Best, Hope.

7 December 2015

Inside the aircraft carrier the mood is dark long before Trump takes the stage. The air around me feels somehow flammable, like the air around a gas station. I am afraid that Trump himself will strike the match.

No one has ever called for a ban on an entire religion before.

Trump is implying something quite different, and stoking fears: Muslims are scary. Theyre different from you. Youre right to be scared. There are terrorists in your neighborhood. Your Muslim neighbors are hiding them.

At 7pm, Trump takes the stage. The room shakes alive, roars as one.

Wow, thank you. Thank you so much, Trump says with a smile. His mouth seems to have two positions. One is a perfect oval, where his words seem less pronounced than ejected. The other is a straight line that cuts his face in two. No teeth, lips stretched. Self-satisfied.

Republican
Donald Trump speaks to the crowd on 7 December 2015 in Mt Pleasant, South Carolina. Photograph: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Every fourth word seems to be very, great, beautiful, or tremendous. He loves the word winning. In fact were going to have so much of it, Trump says well get sick of it. His insults are even simpler. Our leaders are dumb, stupid, or weak. Our deals are terrible. His critics are losers and haters. The press is scum. Women he doesnt find attractive are disgusting. He does this routine all the time. I know his speeches by heart. I know the whole act. Ive been living it for six months. Besides, something tells me tonight is a night to lay low.

Suddenly, a protester interrupts the speech. The crowd fires off a fusillade of boos. Trump seems angry. On the monitors, I can see that he walks away from the mic and tells his personal security guard to get her out. Meanwhile, the protester is still yelling. Her voice ricochets off the ships steel hull. Trump is visibly annoyed now. He walks back to the microphone and admonishes the local South Carolina police officers assigned to keep an eye on the rally.

Trump resumes talking and I keep my head down until I hear my name.

Shes back there, little Katy. Shes back there. What a lie it was. No, what a lie, Katy Tur, what a lie it was from NBC to have written that. It was a total lie and they did a story where they said I didnt know they had a group like this, where they actually criticized the media. And they said it was a total lie. And I loved it, I loved it, I loved it. And then other people pick it up, you know, its NBC, so somebody picks it up. Third-rate reporter, remember that. Third rate. Third rate.

My heart stops. My lungs clench. Every camera in the press pen is broadcasting the rally live on TV or online. Millions are watching at home to find out how Donald Trump is going to justify his Muslim ban. They also get to find out what he thinks about yours truly.

Its clear what the crowd thinks: they love it. They turn all at once, a large animal, angry and unchained. I force a laugh. Shake it off. Its worse if they think he scares you. Just smile. Smile and laugh.

My face obeys. I throw in a wave for good measure. But inside Im terrified. Men are standing on their chairs to get a look at me. They want to see me as they jeer. An older woman to my left is horrified. A friendly face in a crowd of thousands. I decide to tweet about it, hoping my nonchalance will project strength. Im not going to let this guy get into my head.

Once again, my phone is going nuts.

Journalists are tweeting in my defense. My bosses are texting to find out what happened. My mom is borderline hysterical. Are you OK?!?!?

I switch it to silent. The constant vibrations are distracting, and Trump is finally getting back to the ban.

We put out a statement a little while ago and these people are going crazy, Trump says, pointing to the cameras. He literally waves the criticism off. The crowd chuckles. Donald J Trump is calling for and you gotta listen to this one, because its pretty heavy stuff and its common sense and we have to do it.

He is relishing the moment and so are his supporters. They are spellbound. He looks down at his notes and reads verbatim from his press release: Donald J Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our countrys representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.

He adds the hell for effect. The room explodes.

Hardball wants me live. I take a deep breath, stand up, put in my earpiece, and hook back into MSNBCs live coverage.

A couple of minutes later, Im done. The crowd that gathered behind my live shot is gone except for a few stragglers, yelling at me. Theyre five feet away held back by those lousy bicycle racks. A Trump staffer shoos them away. MSNBC has cleared me and my bosses want Anthony and me to get out of there as quickly as we can. I dont quite understand why until we pack up and start to head out. A Trump staffer stops me and says, These guys are going to walk you out.

I look over and see two secret service agents. Thank goodness. They walk Anthony and me along the gangway back to our car. Its pitch black and Im nervous. Were parked with the crowd.

Once were moving, I take a look at my phone. My mom has called. And called. And called. I dial her back. Are you OK? Where are you staying? Can someone stay with you? You need security! She is crying. And it hits me.

Im a target.

21 December 2015

The phone rings.

Katy, its Donald.

He actually sounds a bit friendly, making small talk about his poll numbers. He wants my opinion of Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. He is talking to me as if were old friends, and it occurs to me that in his mind maybe we are. At least for the moment. Banter is part of his process. Hes a person who crowd-sources. He likes to get everyones take. Hell call anyone who will listen friends, loved ones, business partners, lawyers, rivals, and, yes, even reporters. He was famous for it in the New York tabloids calling to hear opinion, spread gossip, or just hype himself.

After about a week without exclusive Trump interviews on our airwaves, I apologized to the executive producer of the Today show, since Trump was now making more appearances on Good Morning America. To his credit, Don Nash said he could not care less. Dont apologize, he told me.

To have support from the company is everything but I still want to smooth things over, because this is an obstacle and I want to get back to reporting.

Well, I know that youre busy, so lets just get into this, I say. I know that you have been less than pleased with what youve seen as some unfair reporting.

I dont have an office, so Im huddled inside Dafna Linzers space. Shes a veteran reporter and, for a call like this, both my editorial backup and my witness. We dont trust that Trump will portray the conversation accurately. If he decides to bring it up later, as we could easily imagine him doing at a rally or on Twitter, we wanted two pairs of ears and two sets of notes for the record. Dafna and I trade glances and I carry on.

Intense scrutiny is what comes with being the frontrunner, I remind him. The American public deserves to know as much about their potential president as they can. Trump listens, but he still has complaints. He didnt like the way I characterized his departure from the stage in Raleigh. He had laryngitis, which, OK, he did. And he says that protesters did not force him off the stage, which, hold on, I never said.

This is really about image. Trump cannot bear looking weak. His whole pitch to the American people is strength and stamina. Hes the outsider who is willing to say what the others wont, to do what the others are afraid of doing, to fight for you. He is a man who cannot be intimidated. This obsession with old-fashioned power is why hes so enamored of Vladimir Putin, who rides horses bareback and shirtless.

Something seems to click with Trump. I dont know what. But he seems to accept my explanation of my job, to take the scrutiny as a sign of respect. Maybe it was enough for him to hear me say that hes got a serious shot at the presidency. Hes suddenly ready to move on.

I appreciate what youre saying, he says. Take care of yourself Be fair to me, Katy You and I should be friends.

We hang up.

I did not apologize.

From the book UNBELIEVABLE: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur. Copyright 2017 by Katy Tur. Reprinted by permission of Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/11/donald-trump-katy-tur-election-book-extract

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