In July, 2015, Ben Shapiro and Zoey Tur appeared as part of a panel discussion on Dr. Drew On Call. At the time, Shapiro was an editor for Breitbart. Zoey Tur used to be “Chopper Bob” Tur, a male helicopter pilot and journalist. In 2013, when he was 53, Bob Tur announced that he was Hanna, and then Zoey, a woman. In 2015, Bruce Jenner was making headlines as Kaitlyn Jenner. The Dr. Drew episode was dedicated to discussing Jenner. Shapiro and Tur clashed; their confrontation went viral on social media.
The other panel members were Segun Oduolowu, an entertainment journalist and a body builder; Samantha Schacher, a slim blonde, competitive swimmer, and TV host; African American Rolanda Watts, a buxom TV host; and Mike Catherwood, a Mexican-American body builder and TV host.
Zoey Tur said that “To come out transgender is the most horribly difficult thing you can do. I’ve been overseas. I’ve flown helicopter surveillance missions, I’ve been shot, stabbed. Being brave is being yourself and being transgender is about the bravest thing you can do.”
“Why are we mainstreaming delusion?” Ben Shapiro asked. Shapiro referred to Jenner as “he.”
Samantha Schacher contemptuously harangued Shapiro. “You’re not being polite to the pronouns. It’s disrespectful,” she said. Note that Schacher stated that one must respect pronouns, that is parts of speech, rather than persons.
“Facts don’t care about your feelings. Every cell in Kaitlyn Jenner’s body is male with the exception of some of his sperm cells,” Shapiro pointed out.
Oduolowu, who had previously blasted Jenner as a “rich white woman” shouted, “She wants to be called ‘she;’ I’m gonna call her ‘she.'”
Dr. Drew insisted that there is “science” behind “being transgender.”
Tur said, “Chromosomes don’t necessarily mean you are male or female.” Tur turned to Shapiro and placed his very large hand on Shapiro’s back. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re not educated in genetics.”
Shapiro quietly called Tur “sir.”
Tur moved his hand to Shapiro’s neck. Tur pulled Shapiro’s head towards his own. “You cut that out now, or you’ll go home in an ambulance.”
Broad-shouldered Tur looks to be at least 5’10”. Shapiro looks about 5’6″ or 5’7″. After Tur physically threatened the smaller Shapiro, Oduolowu, the body builder, jumped to “defend” the physically threatening Tur from the smaller Shapiro. “You’re being rude! That’s not fair!” Oduolowu reprimanded Shapiro.
Catherwood, who had previously been silent, also jumped to defend Tur. He accused Shapiro of “egregiously insulting” and “aggressively insulting” Tur. Rolanda Watts accused Shapiro of finding trans people “scary” and lectured him to “exercise a little bit more tolerance … to understand the things we don’t understand instead of making inflammatory comments.” Tur again turned on Shapiro and accused him of “hatred” that destroys trans people’s lives.
“I don’t hate you,” Shapiro said.
“You do hate. You are consumed with hatred. That is who you are. You’re a little man.” Tur kept touching Shapiro. “There are ramifications for hate speech.”
“What?” Shapiro asked, as Tur threatened him again.
“Let me finish little boy,” Tur said.
Schacher sneeringly preached an incoherent sermon at Shapiro. “You come from a moralist – ” she never finished that “thought.” “Transgender youth attempt suicide because of shame! Does that try to alter the way that you, you how, how, how, how you should project your, your thoughts? I’m full of emotion right now because people die!” Schachter leaned out of her chair toward Shapiro. If she were as big as Tur, she’d assault little Shapiro, too. “You’re sitting there stone faced and cold hearted!”
Rolonda Watts claimed, “There’s a genocide on transgender children.”
Shapiro, though the only one physically assaulted, still the calmest person present, claimed that the transgender suicide rate is the same after assuming a cross-sex identity as it is before. (See here, here, here, and here.)
Oduolowu said, “As a black person we should be for inclusion.”
Shapiro said that transgender people should “flourish,” “Without imposing on the rest of society the necessity for fictionalized thinking.”
The 2015 Dr. Drew show confrontation is a microcosm of how discussion regarding transgenderism has played out. Several features have repeatedly recurred.
1) The shallowness. Most of the people on the panel were there because they were photogenic. B-list celebrities were pontificating to America. “This is what you should think about sexuality, surgeries that amputate healthy organs, and language use. Believe me because I look good on camera.”
2) The uniformity. This was meant to be a “diverse” panel. And yet every member except Shapiro, on the complicated question of transgenderism, expressed the exact same point of view: a man can be a woman, a woman can be a man, and anyone who questions this is a “hater” who deserves to be physically assaulted.
3) The hypocrisy. The panel specifically cited respect, tolerance, and anti-bullying as their values. And they spent the entire show contemptuously, intolerantly bullying one undersized, kippah-wearing Jewish man.
4) The danger. Tur manhandled Shapiro. Not a single person there saw anything to object to. “Violence” was redefined as Shapiro’s facts, not Tur’s manhandling and threats.
In 2022, seven years after the above viral incident, Bob Tur’s daughter has come out with a memoir in which he plays an outsized role. I was curious. What would Katy Tur’s book tell me about the man, who identifies as a woman, who threatened Ben Shapiro?
Rough Draft: A Memoir was published by Atria, a subdivision of Simon and Schuster, on June 14, 2022. Katy Tur is a 38-year-old television journalist. She is married to Tony Dokoupil, also a broadcast journalist. They have two children. Much of Rough Draft is what the reader might expect. Tur reports the excitement of chasing breaking news, the pleasures of international travel, and the challenges of being a wife and a mother while also exceling at a cutthroat profession. Her famous father is an inescapable feature of her life story.
“Chopper Bob” Tur, according to his daughter Katy, pioneered helicopter journalism. That he did so is rather remarkable given his childhood. Bob Tur’s father Jack was a clothing manufacturer who had been previously married before he married Bob’s mother Judy. Judy demanded that Jack break off all contact with his previous wife and child. Jack did so and felt guilty. Jack abused Bob. Katy attributes the abuse to her paternal grandfather’s dark promise to ignore his first child in favor of Bob Tur. People who suffer the inexplicable always seek explanations, no matter how implausible.
Bob Tur’s father was a compulsive gambler. He would hand his money to his little son Bob, make Bob promise to safeguard it, and then beat the money out of him. At times, Bob was shaken in the night and told he’d have to leave everything behind. His father stabbed him in the hand, slashed his face, sliced off part of his ear, and broke his nose. Bob ran away.
Bob, whose parents were Jewish, had “chutzpah,” Katy reports. He schemed, bluffed, and hustled his way to an historic position in broadcasting. His partner was Marika Gerrard, who came from a wealthy Greek-American family. Marika had dropped out of a graduate program in philosophy. Bob was 18. Marika was five years older than Bob and feeling lost. Marika would later report that, “I needed someone to lead.” Bob needed someone to follow him. The people around him were “along for the ride.” Bob excited Marika and introduced her to a gritty side of L.A. that she had never before seen.
It was the 1970s and journalism was, as Katy writes, a glamorous, “get-laid profession.” L.A. is a sprawling city, and traffic is often heavy. It was difficult to arrive before other reporters at a breaking news site. A $40,000 video camera and a helicopter would enhance Bob’s journalism. He owned neither camera nor helicopter. He had no training in using either. He bluffed and finagled and plugged away and acquired the equipment and the skills. Defying an armed guard who appeared to be preparing to shoot him, Bob got his first exclusive: the accidental death of actor Vic Morrow and his child costars. The networks remunerated Bob handsomely. Once CNN began, the need for live video increased.
Katy Tur was born into a People magazine article. She and her parents rubbed shoulders with celebrities like Harrison Ford, Gwyneth Paltrow, Van Halen, Jerry Seinfeld, and Carrie Fisher, whom Bob would eventually date. Katy attended private schools, and enjoyed a home hot tub as well as regular vacations to destinations like Maui. Bob drove a couple of Porsches.
“Their beat was someone else’s worst day,” Katy writes of her parents’ journalism career. They captured, on live video, catastrophic earthquakes, fires and deaths. Bob filmed Madonna, at her wedding to Sean Penn, giving the finger to Bob and his camera. He filmed O.J.’s white Ford Bronco chase. He filmed the Reginald Denny beating and testified at the trial of Denny’s assailants. Bob found a man in the desert who was about to receive a kidney for transplant surgery.
Bob, like his father, was a compulsive gambler. He gambled with his own life, and the life of Marika Gerrard. Marika escaped being shot to death during their coverage of the Denny beating because there was a battery pack stored under her helicopter seat; the equipment absorbed the bullets. Bob once entered a fire, after driving there with a car missing a gas cap. Katy calls that car a “Molotov cocktail.” Bob forced a terrified Marika to wait for him in the car as he scouted footage. When he returned, and he could see that she was afraid, he slapped her across the face.
If Katy or her brother made Bob angry, they got the belt, Katy reports. When they were small, Bob would plant his children on his lap and beat their bare flesh “over and over again.” Katy and her mother had to plaster over the holes Bob punched in walls. Bob abused the family dog, a poodle named Daisy who was eventually eaten by a coyote. Bob’s abuse of Marika caused them to be ejected from multiple restaurants. Katy tried to make a list of things that Bob threw at Marika; the list included radios and helmets. Once Bob hit Marika when she was wearing sunglasses. Broken glass penetrated the skin around her eyes. Bob was ready with a butterfly bandage. “Always the hero,” Katy dryly comments.
When Bob and Marika were in the helicopter, they were recording. Some of these recordings consisted of Bob striking or verbally abusing Marika. Bob would keep up a torrent of verbal abuse, criticizing every aspect of Marika’s on-the-job performance, calling her a “moron” and other insults. Bob also insulted other colleagues. Marika might tell Bob that she hated him. Bob would reply that “violence” was his only way of communicating with Marika. Bob would also fly downward spirals to frighten and nauseate Marika. One incident, in which Bob audibly strikes Marika and yells at her, is included in the 2020 documentary Whirlybird. An anonymous journalism colleague who had received the Turs’ news coverage over the years spliced together audiotape of Bob beating and insulting Marika and sent the audiotape to the Tur home.
When Katy was a high school senior, Bob was abusing Marika. Katy told him to “F— off. Get out. We don’t want you here.” Bob punched Katy in the mouth, drawing blood. Katy thought of calling the cops, but feared that doing so would interfere with Bob’s ability to earn a living – and support her, her brother, and her mother. Katy says that people ask her why her father was violent. She offers an answer: he was an abused child. Bob, now Zoey, offers the same excuse in the Whirlybird documentary. Abused children become abusers, he insists, as if that exonerates him for decades of abuse directed at his loved ones and his colleagues.
After Bob testified in the trial of the attackers of Reginald Denny, he received death threats. He purchased a gun and Katy began to live in fear. Bob had heart trouble. Bob’s mother, Judy had skills Bob lacked. She managed his office and when she died, her skills, charm, and connections went with her. Bob’s career floundered.
Bob and Marika divorced. Katy stuck around, and Bob tried to “groom” his daughter Katy into a being a replacement for Judy and Marika. Bob told Katy that he was suicidal and she was the only thing keeping him alive. Katy made a break, and left for New York. Bob regarded her departure as an abandonment. Katy realized, though, that she could not save Bob. Bob was like a bucket with a leak, she writes, and the only way he tried to fill his bucket was to take from Katy’s bucket.
Katy, a trained editor, knew could tell her family’s story in a certain way. She could talk about the fun, excitement, and adventure. She could write about the prestigious journalism awards. She could be the princess, someone “special.” In this telling, her dad was the tickle monster, a charming, larger-than-life figure.
Why did Katy begin to tell, publicly, a different version? In 2013, Katy was covering the Boston Marathon bombing. Bob phoned Katy. Katy hoped that her father might be phoning to congratulate his daughter for her coverage of a national story. Bob did not mention her coverage. Rather, he announced, “I’ve decided to become a woman.” Katy said that the conversation was a roller coaster in the dark. She was completely unprepared for her father’s announcement.
Bob said that not being a woman was what had made him angry. For Katy, Bob’s referencing his own anger opened a door, a door she had previously kept closed. Katy said that she had worked at editing Bob’s anger out of her life story. Bob’s changing to Hanna, and then to Zoey, and announcing that being a woman cured him of his anger, brought the anger up for Katy. Katy wanted to talk about the anger with Bob. (I’m going to continue to use “Bob” just for ease of writing and reading. In Rough Draft, Katy uses “Bob” and masculine pronouns for her father before his announcement, and Zoey and feminine pronouns for her father after the announcement.)
In her memoir, Katy quotes herself as saying all the things transgender activists would insist one must say to a man who has just announced that he is really a woman. Katy quotes herself as saying that she supported Bob / Hanna / Zoey. Katy said she’d always love him. Katy switched from male to female pronouns. Bob would later go public with a much different story, and Bob would do so without warning or consulting with his daughter.
In the phone call to Boston, and in a subsequent meeting in a Mexican restaurant, Bob told Katy that he had always felt wrong. He was born with a female brain. That he was in the wrong body was the root of every problem the family had had. In reporting this new interpretation of his life story, Bob sounded giddy. Bob chose the name Hanna because it means “grace” in Hebrew. Bob openly wished he had married a Jewish woman, instead of Marika. A Jewish woman would have pushed him harder, and he would have been more successful. A Jewish woman wouldn’t have let Bob fail, as did Marika. Yes, Bob Tur said these things about his wife and career partner to Katy Tur, the daughter of the woman he was denigrating and blaming for his own failures.
Bob said, “I’m already a worse driver. My brain is shrinking down to the size of a woman’s. It’s true. It’s biology. It’s science. I can’t make decisions as quickly as I used to. Now that I’m a woman I look forward to always being right. I’m good at asking for directions. I now talk during movies and roll my eyes when men talk about sports. My female brain is getting softer and more emotional. I’m filled with calm and love. I’ve changed.”
Katy, who at this point had been a woman for thirty years, sat and listened as her father told her what it is like to be a woman.
“We need to talk about the violence,” Katy insisted. Her father refused.
To Katy, this refusal was like a bank robber pleading not guilty. Adopting a female identity was not a get out of jail free card, Katy writes.
“Bob Tur is dead,” Bob said.
“The stuff Bob Tur did isn’t dead. You yelled. You hit. You caused pain.”
“Who did I hit?”
“All of us. You even kicked the dog.”
“I’ve changed. I’m a new person. This is a new me. I’ve fixed it. It’s all over. I’m happier. I’m nicer. I don’t have any of those emotions any longer,” Bob said.
But as he was announcing how much nicer he was, he was making the threatening face he used to make when he was Bob. That face announced, “You don’t want to keep messing with me.”
Katy tried to hold Bob’s hands. Bob yanked his hands away. He said to his daughter, “You are a selfish and disgusting person … You are a terrible person. I never want to see you again.” Bob got up and left Katy sitting at the table. Later, Bob would say ugly things about his daughter Katy, including this, “Truth is my daughter does not support the LGBT community. She’s Transphobic and fearful that it will hurt her career as a broadcaster in these alt-right times. Career before family. In the words of Paddy Chayefsky: She’s pure television.”
In the Whirlybird documentary, Bob said that he felt “regret” for having been an abusive husband and father. He blamed his behavior on having been an abused child himself, and on being a woman in the wrong body. He said he was sad that his children might regard him as he regarded his own abusive father. But Bob also excused his abuse, saying that rage was what made him a successful and groundbreaking journalist. Katy says she wonders if Bob was truly regretful, or if he was merely acting for the purposes of the documentary. She says that Bob has never apologized to her directly. Having watched Bob’s expression of regret in the documentary, I believe that Katy’s caution is well placed. I don’t believe Bob’s contrition.
While she is frank about her father’s abuse, Katy Tur gratefully insists that her mother and father made her the journalist she is today. She also goes out of her way to mention her father’s heroic feats, including making seventeen night flights in gale force winds to rescue fifty people from a flooded hotel. My dad is a hero, she acknowledges.
Bob Tur is not the entirety of Katy Tur’s memoir. Katy describes the hard work she put into becoming a national news figure. Early on in her career, an older woman journalist warned Katy what her life would entail. “Let me tell you what your life is going to be like. You’re not going to have one. Forget dinner plans. Forget dating. Forget marriage. Forget children. They’re going to send you to stories in the middle of the night for days at a time and you’ll never know when you will be home.”
The production skills in technology and editing that she learned from her parents gave her a competitive edge. She pushed herself into the Boston Marathon story. She recounts the joys of living la dolce vita in Italy and a tender love affair in France. She first saw her husband, Tony Dokoupil, onscreen, and recognized how “hot” he is. They married and two children followed.
Rough Draft is written in the style of a magazine article. The narrative moves quickly. The language does not aspire to artistry or innovation. The author does not dig below the surface. Tur herself writes that people must exert care not to become “breathless” over too many things. Doing so would of course make her job as a journalist impossible. She has been actively involved in journalism since she was two years old. If the police scanner announced a fire, an earthquake, a shooting, or a riot, it was time to rush off to that event, and forget all previous events.
Tur’s coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing struck me hard. Martin Richard was an eight-year-old Catholic schoolboy who was standing three feet away from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his pressure cooker bomb. Photos of Richard at a Bruins game and at his first communion show a remarkably sweet looking child. In one photo, Richard is holding up a sign he made: “No more hurting people. Peace.” Richard’s body was shredded; he sustained injuries a doctor testified would be very painful (see here). Tur never mentions Richard, or Islam, the bombers’ justification for their crime. Tur does mention that she had to kick off her high heeled shoes and walk barefoot over cobblestones. She does report that her summer dress was inappropriate for the Boston weather.
Tur criticizes Donald Trump’s 2015 announcement that he would ban Muslims from entering the US. Tur never mentions the San Bernadino Christmas jihad massacre that took the lives of fourteen innocent people and that immediately preceded Trump’s announcement. Tur performs a similar maneuver when describing her father’s brush with Ben Shapiro. Tur dismisses Ben Shapiro as a “troll.” Shapiro, of course, was not a troll. Rather, Shapiro simply spoke the truth to her father, possibly before she ever did. Her father abused Shapiro, just as he abused her.
Bob Tur was a pioneering journalist who also performed heroic feats like rescuing people from a storm. Those are facts. He was an abusive father, husband, and dog owner. These are also facts. The one set of facts does not negate the other. “Civilians,” that is people who did not grow up with abusive parents, sometimes become annoyed with survivors of child abuse. “You just told me that your father was an expert fly fisherman. You also told me that your father beat you. They can’t both be true!” Yes, they can both be true.
Bob Tur did not abuse his wife, children, dog, and colleagues because he himself was abused. I know many survivors of the most heinous forms of child abuse who grew up to be exceptionally loving friends, spouses, and parents. Before I began writing this review, I asked a friend how he handled his childhood abuse when he became a parent. He said he went to his long-time therapist and said, “If I ever do to my own children what my parents did to me, I will kill myself.” That was decades ago. He never had to kill himself. He still has anger and pain. He just doesn’t act on his anger and pain by hurting others. I also spoke to trans people. One, a community leader, rejected the idea that being trans would cause someone physically to abuse others.
Bob Tur, simply, like all abusers, had unaddressed personality issues. Given his public behavior, it’s safe to assume that he suffers from a personality disorder. As his assault on Ben Shapiro shows, estrogen didn’t cure him. For abusers to get better, they have to first acknowledge that they have a problem. Bob Tur, and now Zoey Tur, continuously insists that something outside of himself is responsible for his behavior. That insistence prevents him from fully coming to terms with the harm he has caused people who love him, and strangers like Ben Shapiro as well.
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery.