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Katy Tur: ‘Being a mom has made me a better reporter’

MSNBC's Katy Tur wrote her autobiography because, she says, she wants people to know who she is — and most importantly, she wants her children to know.

Journalist and MSNBC anchor Katy Tur is not interested in inserting herself into "the story." But she is interested in honesty — for herself, her audience and her children.

In her recently released memoir, "Rough Draft," Tur, 38, pulls back the curtain on her often tumultuous, frequently inspiring childhood.

Tur's parents were helicopter journalists in LA, and covered most major events in LA in the 1980s and 1990s from the air, from the OJ Simpson car chase to the LA riots.

Tur writes honestly about the abusive rage of her father, Zoey Tur, who since her childhood has come out as a trans woman.

"In order to tell the story, to really understand it and to be honest about it, I had to tell the whole story," Tur told Craig Melvin on TODAY. "You can't just tell the glossy parts."

TODAY reached out for comment to Zoey Tur, who did not respond.

From describing the afternoons she spent buckled into the backseat of her parents' helicopter as they chased another breaking news event, to detailing multiple instances of abuse at the hands of her father, Tur shares aspects of her life journalists are usually encouraged — and sometimes required — to keep private.

"Lives are complicated and past histories are complicated," Tur told TODAY Parents via Zoom. "I want people to understand who I am, as a journalist and a human. And to understand who I am, I have to tell you the whole truth — and the whole truth is good, bad and ugly."

Tur says her motivation for writing about her childhood was her children.

“I struggle with feeling like my kids are never really going to know who I am unless they know where I came from,” she explained. “I’m from Los Angeles and Los Angeles feels very much a part of my identity. The way I grew up in the helicopter and feeling very intimately involved with the city through what my parents did. And when I left it kind of felt like I stopped being who I was and started being someone new.”

Tur has certainly brought her identity as a mother to her reporting. The mom of two posted an impassioned Instagram Story discussing the need for mandatory paid family leave when she returned to the anchor desk after giving birth to her second child in 2019.

"This morning, however emotionally hard, wasn’t nearly as hard as it is for the vast majority of other parents. I had 6 months of mostly paid leave and the means to take some unpaid time,” Tur wrote. “I can’t fathom having to go back to work in those early months when no one is sleeping at all. I can’t fathom leaving a month-old at a crowded daycare. But that’s what so many parents do. It’s unfair and it’s outrageous.”

"Being a mom has made me a better reporter," Tur said. "The majority of the women in this country don't have paid leave at all, let alone five months. So when I came back I wanted to make a point that it's not extremes — it's difficult for everybody to have a kid. And paid parental leave is not just good for the baby, but the mother, the partner, the family, the baby, the town, the society and the country."

One of five MSNBC anchors The Los Angeles Times claimed to be "reshaping the television landscape," Tur has authored two books, famously covered Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and is currently part of MSNBC's special coverage of the January 6th Committee hearings.

Tur is one of the most well-known voices in media today.

"When you look at a byline, you don't know who that person is," Tur explained. "It's easy to say, 'I don't trust this person. I don't know anything about them.' When you look at me on television, you say, 'Oh look, her hair is done, her makeup is done. Look at her Instagram, she has a wonderful, loving and happy family.' I think it can be easy to dismiss me and say I can't understand what you're going through because 'clearly' my life is perfect. But that's not my life. I mean, I live a decent life, but it's not perfect."

Tur said she doesn’t always agree with the traditional view that journalists need to abstain from sharing personal reactions to maintain their journalistic “objectivity.”

“I think it’s important that people just get to know journalists more, in order to trust us,” she says.

According to a recent Gallup poll, only 7% of Americans say they have a “great deal” of trust in mainstream media. A reported 29% say they trust the media a “fair amount.”

“I don’t know if every journalist should, when they’re reporting on a story, talk about their own experience,” Tur added. “Just report the story. But I also think that the more experiences we have as individuals, the more informed and empathetic reporters we are. It makes us better journalists. That could be traveling to a new place; it could be having a horrific personal experience — either way, you bring that to the storytelling and you can have that empathy for the subject. I think that’s great. I think telling people about it is not a bad thing, either.”

Now that the details of her life are available for public consumption, Tur says she's relieved — though she did share that a few days before her book was released she suffered a panic attack.

"I was very scared to do the book, because it was so personal and honest," she added. "These are stories I never wanted to talk about. I didn't really want to even tell my husband about the stuff that I've been running away from. But I knew that running away from it wasn't an option anymore, and that being honest about it was the only way I knew how to deal with it. We're in an industry that teaches you to tell the truth. And this is the truth."