Before Melissa Francis landed a job at Fox News, she was a local news reporter making her way up in the world of broadcast news — and dealing with sexual harassment encounters like the ones her former colleague Bill O’Reilly and boss Roger Ailes have been accused of perpetrating.
In her new memoir Lessons from the Prairie, the former Little House on the Prairie child star delves into her time on set, as well as her sometimes treacherous path to the world of broadcast journalism. She outlines a five-step plan to turn difficulties into success and reflects on her strategies as a working mom and the importance of faith (especially after she got fired from her spot on national TV).
“I’ve taken more than a few pies to the face,” said Francis in a press release about the book. “Along the way, I’ve come to realize that many of the tools I needed to clean myself up, I learned in those few precious years on the Prairie.“
But nothing on the show could have prepared her for the uncomfortable encounters she had as a young journalist. In her book (out now), she recounts the time a broadcast news boss made unwanted sexual advances on her while she was working at small local news outlet.
Francis, 44, writes that one of the local news chiefs — whom she does not name in the memoir — showed up at her doorstep after midnight one evening “clearly inebriated” and, after ignoring a call from his wife, called Francis a “smokin’ 23-year-old” and detailed what he wanted to happen between the two of them.
To get out of the situation, Francis refused to let the “ogre” inside her apartment and feigned severe illness to get him to leave. She called her agent the next day asking them to find her a new job.
The incident left Francis with a lot of questions, she writes: “I asked myself what I could have possibly done to make this man think I would let him in that door?”
In the book, Francis reveals she later found out the man had gotten divorced and was working at a smaller market than the one she’d been working at with him, but she still regrets never reporting the incident.
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But despite her own experience with sexual harassment, she says she was “gobsmacked” when she heard of the allegations made against Ailes and thought they didn’t “ring true.” (Both Ailes and O’Reilly have denied the claims of sexual misconduct and harassment made against them.)
Upon further reflection Francis recalled her first meeting with Ailes, in which he told her that a star female anchor was “someone you’d like to get into bed, and you fit that bill as far as I’m concerned, for sure.”
Francis writes that it was a sentiment he shared “at least three times” but she did not reflect on the intention of those comments until after the other women — including Gretchen Carlson, who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes — came forward.
“Yet again I’m reminded not to let my desire to see the sunny side of life blind me to the darker underbelly that certainly exists, and the damage it can do,” she writes. “Villains are lurking everywhere.”