MSNBC host Katy Tur’s chaotic childhood began in an L.A. news helicopter

Katy Tur posing for her dad in front of the family helicopter.
Katy Tur posing for her dad in front of the family helicopter.
(Photo from Katy Tur)

On the Shelf

Rough Draft

By Katy Tur
One Signal: 272 pages, $28

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Katy Tur grew up in a helicopter. The MSNBC reporter and host is the daughter of Zoey Tur and Marika Gerrard, founders of Los Angeles News Service. The couple rose to prominence for their gonzo helicopter coverage of L.A.’s 1992 unrest and the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase.

Tur’s new memoir, “Rough Draft,” explores that professional lineage but also dives into territory she never thought she’d speak about publicly. She alleges that her father was both verbally and physically abusive. “I once tried to make a list of the many things my father threw at my mom,” she writes. “Once she was wearing sunglasses when he hit her, driving shards of the lens into the soft skin of her eye socket.”

Katy Tur, left, with her father and mother on her father's 30th birthday.
Katy Tur, left, with her father and mother, Zoey Tur and Marika Gerrard.
(Photo from Katy Tur)

Gerrard and Tur eventually divorced; Tur later transitioned. Now Zoey Tur, she continues to work in the Los Angeles area. Tur writes that she was happy Zoey became who she felt she was always meant to be. But along with the transition came Zoey’s new outlook: She could not be held responsible for anything she had done previously. She also told the tabloids Katy had rejected her for being transgender — a charge Katy denies.

In recent years, Tur moved on: She got married, had two children, became an anchor on MSNBC Live. And like all of us, she weathered the pandemic. But when a documentary about her parents, “Whirlybird,” debuted in 2021, the old footage brought memories flooding back. All of it — the pandemic, motherhood, the state of the news business and the new publicity over her family — converged into “Rough Draft.”

Tur spoke with The Times via Zoom late last month about growing up in chaos, reckoning with it now and her unresolved relationship with her father. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Katy Tur, left, with her husband, Tony Dokoupil, and their two children.
Katy Tur, left, with her husband, Tony Dokoupil, and their two children.
(Photo from Katy Tur)

At 700 feet above Los Angeles, Zoey Tur realized she’d never flown a chopper in heels.

March 31, 2015

You grew up with two parents whose careers were built on adrenaline. You write in the memoir about seeking that first-on-the-scene thrill in your youth. Has that changed over the years?

Now that I’m a mother, I respond much more emotionally to hardships and to tragedy. I think you need empathy to be a reporter, but I also had an ability to distance myself from some stories. When I was pregnant with my first child, I found myself really connecting to stories of suffering. Ukraine’s been very hard to cover.

But in terms of adrenaline, I still 100% want to get the story. I will sprint to the scene if I am able to. It’s the best part of the job, hands down. I love it when everything falls apart around me. I don’t love the story, but as a breaking news broadcaster, I love figuring it out in real time.

"Rough Draft" by Katy Tur
(Atria/One Signal Publishers)

Do you think your ability to master the chaos stems from the chaos in your childhood?

It was chaotic. And my parents also shined during chaos, during police pursuits and breaking news. It was wild. It was a huge adventure and it could be a lot of fun. When I was growing up it was so ingrained in me that this is what work life is like.

When I went to college I thought I’d be a doctor or a lawyer. But if I was gonna be a doctor, I wanted to be an ER surgeon. I wanted it still to be quite chaotic. I am at my calmest then. That was one of the big reasons why I felt so sucked in when I decided I would be in the news business.

And then in moments of self-reflection like we had during the pandemic, I thought, “Wait. Hold on. Was this really what I was supposed to do?”

And it propelled you to start the memoir.

Everybody was in this solitary moment where we all are wondering, “Am I going to keep my job? Is my marriage going to be OK? Do I want to do this for a living? Is the world going to be OK? Are we ever going to come out of this?” It puts death in front of your face. It says, “Is this how you want to die? You’ve lived your life so far. Is that good enough for you?”


The only way I could answer it was to go through my childhood. It reminded me of an identity I had lost. It felt like, leaving L.A., I had lost that life and was trying to reattach it — but finding that parts didn’t really fit anymore. It was nice to get a reminder of all the fun, but in order to reacquaint myself with that, I had to revisit all of the other, darker periods. The only way to really do it was to get it down on the page.

Katy Tur in Perth, Australia reporting on the disappearance of Flight MH370 in 2014.
(Photo from Katy Tur)

You speak 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 kind of superstitious in me where I started to think like, “God, maybe my bosses hate me. [Laughs.] Maybe my colleagues hate me.” All these ugly, corrosive thoughts started entering my head. It reminded me of how my dad used to think about people. It was very self-destructive for Dad.

It was a combination of being 38 and having a moment to think about my life, but then also amplified by the pandemic and the self-reflection that everybody experienced. There’s also the documentary, and that was like lighting a match.

“We should have been blasting ‘9 to 5,’” said Stephanie Ruhle, sitting at her anchor desk in the MSNBC studio at 30 Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan.

June 6, 2019

It sounded like you didn’t push back against what Zoey Tur was saying publicly around that time — things about you and the family. Is the book that response?


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 scared to sit here, do the interview with you. I’m scared for the book to come out because it’s deeply personal. It was ugly stuff.

My dad had brought up a lot of our relationship in the press and it was really hurtful. I didn’t want to respond because I didn’t want it to be public. Then the documentary came out and aired a lot of it. I’m scared for my dad to read it, but the book is not meant as an indictment. The book is meant as an honest portrayal of a complicated experience.

Tur interviewing presidential candidate Donald Trump in July 2015.
(Photo from Katy Tur)

I read it as you trying to sort out that relationship with someone who was basically not communicating with you.

I’m happy you said it that way — that was what was intended. But you never know how it comes across on the page. It’s scary because I love my dad. I love my dad today and I love my dad forever. I’m sad that that she’s missing out on so much in my life.

My favorite memories were with my grandparents, and I wish my kids knew their grandfather. Their grandfather would likely be the most fun person in their lives. I mean, she’d probably be like my grandmother, who was the most fun 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 this is something I’ve done. I’m not perfect in this, obviously, and I hope I didn’t portray myself that way. Because I have a lot of questions about whether I could have done things differently. I just hope for things to be better in the future.

‘Whirlybird’ shows how Zoey Tur and Marika Gerrard brought eye-in-the-sky reporting to local news and the complexities of Tur’s gender transition.

Aug. 6, 2021

Berry writes for a number of publications and tweets @BerryFLW.