NBC News' Katy Tur Talks Importance of Covering Politicians in Person at 'Embeds' Screening
The former Trump campaign pool reporter, who was frequently called out by the then-candidate at his rallies, joined the creator and cast of a new series about journalists covering presidential campaigns for a panel discussion in Brooklyn last week.
NBC's Katy Tur, numerous other journalists and a group of actors who play news reporters on TV gathered in Brooklyn last Tuesday for a screening and panel discussion about Embeds, a new half-hour comedy series on Verizon's go90 streaming service.
The series, all six episodes of which premiered on Jan. 18, follows a group of young journalists covering a fictional presidential primary campaign as on-the-ground embedded reporters.
Embeds, from Complex Networks' Seriously.TV, was created by former campaign reporters Scott Conroy and Pete Hamby, now Snapchat's head of news, and counts Megyn Kelly and Michael De Luca among its executive producers.
During the post-screening panel last week, the actors who play some of the young campaign reporters revealed how their real-life counterparts helped them prepare while Tur pointed out elements of the series that felt familiar. And both Tur and Conroy touched on the Trump factor, both how reporters on the ground may have been able to get a more accurate sense of his appeal and what it's like to release a TV show about a presidential campaign just months after the end of a particularly divisive one.
Two of Embeds' castmembers, Kelsey Asbille and Max Ehrich, cited Conroy as one of their key sources of information about their roles.
"Scott has such a passionate understanding of what an embed is, and he gave us a lot of great material as research," Asbille said. "He was also very valuable on set."
Ehrich added that he picked Conroy's brain whenever possible and also followed a number of real-life embeds on Twitter. Co-star Taylor Zakhar also sought out real-life reporters, contacting all of the embeds he could find from NBC, ABC and CBS. Six responded to him and one, Tur's producer Anthony Terrell, was particularly helpful.
The Embeds cast and crew were filming in Iowa right before the 2016 presidential election and that experience, Zakhar says, created an odd disconnect for him, living in L.A.
"You live in a bubble in L.A. or New York, [where] everyone thinks the liberals win all the time," Zakhar says. "And so in Iowa, Trump supporters are everywhere, like there were [6 by 6 foot lettered] signs in corn fields that said 'Trump.' But on the news you heard nothing but 'Boo, Trump. Trump did this. Trump did that. He's never going to be president!' We watched the presidential debates. Then we went home and everyone voted and we found out [the election results]. And our group texts were like, 'What? What happened?!'"
Touching on the disconnect between media coverage of the candidates leading up to the election and Trump's ongoing support in parts of the country, Tur said that those who covered Trump in person saw a different phenomenon than those just watching the then-candidate on TV were able to perceive.
"Everyone who went out on the campaign trail, most of us that followed Trump and saw him in Iowa and in the middle of the country weren't ruling him out, and we'd go back to our newsrooms and say, 'Hey, this is something, he's getting a ton of people and the signs are everywhere.' But it's hard to measure unless you see it in person and in the flesh. The camera takes something away — takes enthusiasm away," Tur said. "And Donald Trump, even when he said outrageous things, it was different being in the room, because the crowd was laughing with him and they were with him and they were supportive of what he was doing, not necessarily because they liked what he was saying but because they liked the person he was on the stage. They felt a connection to him because he was really charming and entertaining. And that's what was really hard to measure when you're just watching it on television."
Conroy added that he was hopeful his show would make some people in the news media pay more attention to the reporters on the campaign trail.
"I think we did focus a little too much on data journalism, on punditry from D.C.," he said.
But now Embeds is being released in a climate in which Trump is president, after a divisive 2016 election that has not yet been forgotten, and his administration has taken a hostile approach to the media.
"The show is probably not a reflection at all of Katy's experience covering the Trump campaign, because it's a very different kind of candidate. I thought it was important not to parody someone that I already consider to be a parody. We probably want to avoid, and I think we did avoid for the most part, addressing Trump as a figure," Conroy said of releasing Embeds in the current political environment. "But I think what's important, and especially if we go forward with the show, I think it's important to celebrate journalism. [Trump] is a guy who ran for president on a platform of opening up the libel laws. He would disparage reporters by name regularly; he's been openly hostile to the press at every turn; he has given not even an inkling of a hope that he appreciates the First Amendment and value of a free press. So I think now more than ever we need to celebrate good journalism, and I want to keep that theme going for sure."