Q&A with Melissa Francis, Anchor, Fox Business

Melissa Francis joined Fox Business from CNBC in December and has since been at the helm of the network’s presidential campaign coverage. She has focused on GOP primary exit polls and the issues at the intersection of economics and politics.

Francis, a native of Los Angeles, had her television debut as an infant in a Johnson & Johnson commercial and went on to play one of the many children on the 1970s-’80s television series “Little House on the Prairie.” To her surprise, she told The Hill, her acting background provided little help when she began her career as a broadcast journalist.

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Q: You have a business-reporting background, but you’ve been doing campaign coverage for Fox Business. How do you like reporting on politics?

I love it. I think, with this election especially, there’s such an intersection between the economy and politics that it really helps to have an expertise in both.

One thing that I’ve been working on a lot is exit polling, and again and again they’re saying the issue that was weighing on them most heavily as they cast their vote is the economy, my wallet, gas prices — all things that are right in my wheelhouse. 

Q: What are the differences and similarities between reporting on business and reporting on politics?

There’s a lot of similarity … When you look at it through the lens of economics or numbers or data, you can find the answers real clearly. It helps to sort through the numbers and get to what the truth is.

For instance, everybody’s talking about the price of gas, and it was $1.89 when Obama took office, and Gingrich has said he’ll get it down to $2.50. And having covered energy, I know that it’s a tall order. Right now it’s going to be pretty tough for a politician to control what the price of oil is.

Q: What’s the most intriguing part of the presidential campaign to you?

How quickly everything changes. I think that’s been most surprising to me …

A week is a lifetime in politics, and I haven’t been that close to it before to realize how quickly that changes.

Q: How do you keep from getting punchy when those election-return nights can last until the wee hours?

It’s a lot of coffee. It’s a lot of caffeine. I try to make the most of the days that I’m not here. I have two small kids, 1 and 5, and when it’s not a Tuesday-night return, I’m the mom picking my son up from preschool. I also have my husband and kids watching me from home when I’m here and cheering me on.

That’s how I stay sane — make it up somewhere else. But it’s so exciting that you definitely want to be a part of it.

Q: If you had a one-on-one interview tomorrow with any of the contenders — Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul — or with President Obama, what would you ask?

That’s easy. I would ask them all how are they going to create jobs. I don’t mean the government creating jobs. I mean how are they going to make the economy grow, and what are you going to do to create a climate where businesses can grow and where companies feel comfortable to add extra people?

My first question to every CEO we have on right now is, are you hiring, and why or why not? A lot of times, they’ll say they have extra capital but they’re not hiring because they’ve learned to do more with less and they don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.

Q: What made you switch from CNBC to Fox Business?

Roger Ailes was really persuasive and charismatic and dynamic and told me about the vision he has for Fox Business, and I was drawn in immediately. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Q: You started out in television as a child actor, notably playing one of the children in “Little House on the Prairie.” What was that experience like?

It was a lot of fun. By the time I joined the show, it had been going on for a long time. Jason Bateman was my brother, and we were adopted after a terrible wagon accident … and by then it was a well-oiled machine. They were used to cajoling and bribing kids to get a good performance. I had a blast. 

It was a very unusual childhood, but I had all positive memories. I grew up in L.A. It’s kind of a one-industry town. I did my first Johnson & Johnson commercial when I was less than a year old.

I worked my whole way through growing up and then went away for college. I decided that I’d see if it would draw me back or if I became interested in something else.

Q: So then what made you decide to switch from acting to journalism?

I went to Harvard and studied economics, and my first summer I went to the internship center, and I looked around, and I saw an application for a Fox news affiliate, ironically, in Los Angeles. And it said it’d let me go into a real newsroom and work for free, and I was like, “Sign me up.”

I went in [and] there was so much adrenaline and excitement that I was hooked.

Q: Did your acting background help you transition to broadcast journalism?

Ironically, not at all. When I got my first on-air job, I think my news director was disappointed because he thought, “Oh, she’s an actor, she’ll be great on air.” But it was so different from acting, because acting was so planned and you didn’t have any control over what you were saying.

My very first live shot, I looked like a deer in headlights. I just totally froze when the anchor tossed it to me. The photographer said, Sit down, sit right there. Because I looked like I was going to pass out.

I had a rough time learning to be live on television. I almost think it was harder, because I was just so used to being so rehearsed. 

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?

My hobby is spending time with my kids, definitely. We go to the playground, we play soccer, we throw the ball. 

I have a 1-year-old and a 5-year-old, both boys. We live in Manhattan, and we spend a lot of time at the dinosaur museum. The rest of the city knows it as the Museum of Natural History. New York has tons of museums, but as far as my boys are concerned, there’s only one.

Those are my two worlds, and I don’t have much more time beyond that.