Cynthia McFadden is an icon of ethics and principle in a television world gone mad with “reality” and “celebrity” trivia. She is a triple-threat — producer, writer and reporter of her own work at ABC where she co-anchors the network’s “Nightline” and “Primetime.”
McFadden burst on the scene as a young producer for TV legend Fred W. Friendly, the celebrated man who made the Edward R. Murrow days at CBS so effective and important. Over six years, Cynthia and Fred produced more than 40 prime-time programs for public TV on topics from the American presidency to ethics and terrorism. Their panelists were the nation’s biggest, most famous and infamous names.
In 1991, Steve Brill lured her to his new Courtroom TV Network. She was both senior producer and anchor. She anchored five hours of live courtroom coverage daily, covering more than 200 trials. In 1994, she made the leap to network news, covering the O.J. Simpson trial for ABC.
She has won nearly every major award in broadcast news including a George Foster Peabody, a duPont, the Foreign Press Club and an Emmy. Interviewing world leaders – President Musharraf of Pakistan, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; she includes Bono, Paul Newman, Paul McCartney, Madonna, Cher, George Clooney, Angelina Jolie and Clint Eastwood in her repertoire. She has sat down with most of the 2008 presidential candidates including five in-depth interviews with Senator Hillary Clinton.
McFadden’s documentary work is about those whose voices may not be heard. She has done groundbreaking work with children raised in poverty by their grandmothers, girl gangsters in Los Angeles, prostitutes in San Francisco and the last days of a death row inmate in Louisiana. Her award-winning investigations into human rights abuses, focusing on women and children, have had her reporting from India on children in the sex trade, in Mexico on a mental hospital, on sex slavery in Israel, as well as from China, Rwanda, Bosnia, South Africa and El Salvador.
Born in Maine, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude from Bowdoin College, receiving a law degree from Columbia. A Vanity Fair profile noted McFadden was “more L.L. Bean than Geoffrey Beene” – a sentiment she cherishes.
Dead to Me:
- Very little is dead to me. I like to keep things alive.
- But sad to say, the gym does not call me. I belonged to a gym near my office for seven years but never took off my clothes.
I Don’t Care What They Say:
- I really DON’t care what they say anymore about most things.
- Chocolate: Mondel Chocolates, Upper West Side, 116th and Broadway. Florence Mondel makes them herself.
- I just recently developed a Christian Louboutin addiction. I can’t wear the really high ones.
- I either live in the city or the country – high heels or complete clod hoppers.
- Merrells. The most fantastic, very useful and comfortable but ugly-comfortable clog-like things, like Uggs. They now have running Merrells and walking Merrells.
- Jack Rogers sandals. One of my college roommates had all these gorgeous Fair Isle sweaters and Jack Rogers sandals. She was so chic; I wanted to be just like her. So I now have Jack Rogers in a wide array of colors: beige and white, green and pink, black patent, silver, gold and pewter, all of them.
- Vodka: Grey Goose
- Stouffer’s frozen macaroni and cheese
- Johnny Rockets hamburgers and chocolate milkshakes
- I basically eat all the foods you like if you’re a third-grade boy or live with one, though we do both. My third grader and I have a very particular taste for caviar on baked potatoes. Petrossian sells the most exquisite caviar in a variety of pricey price ranges.
I Love(d) Reading:
I Love(d) Listening To:
I Love(d) Watching:
- One of my college friends, Joan Benoit, win the first women’s marathon in the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. This tiny little girl from Maine who dared and did!
- Patti Lupone singing “Rose’s Turn” in the current Broadway production of “Gypsy”
- Madonna’s new documentary, “I Am Because We Are.” It is engaging and smart about the million orphaned children in Malawi.
I Wish I Lived In:
- A penthouse — but not just any penthouse. I want to live in Joan Ganz Cooney’s penthouse with its glorious high ceiling and views down Fifth Avenue, and the wraparound terrace that has Central Park spread out before you as a front lawn. I grew up in a little town – Auburn, Maine – and thought a penthouse overlooking Central Park was how everyone in New York lived. How wrong I was.
- Plastic bags which I wash out and reuse. I hate the waste of just throwing them out. I have recently returned from Rwanda where it is against the law to bring plastic bags into the country.
- Smythson notebooks. They are so perfect that I can’t bring myself to dirty the pages and use them.
I Want to Own:
I’m Addicted To:
The First Thing I Do in the Morning Is:
- I sneak into Spencer’s room. The miracle of watching his chest go up and down has never left me.
- My BlackBerry. I once typed an entire “Nightline” story about Hillary Clinton on my BlackBerry while being driven through a snowstorm in Iowa. Why it works when my computer fails to get a signal is an enduring mystery. I now carry a spare phone with me so I can call the BlackBerry when I lose it.
- Kindness when no one’s watching
- Fred Friendly, the former president of CBS News and my first boss
- Katharine Hepburn
- My father, Warren Graham McFadden. He worked for the telephone company for 45 years and was married to my mother for 50 years. I think that, in many ways, the defining experience of his life was being a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II. He was the most deeply influential person in my life. His high standards and constant support gave me courage. His death from brain cancer just before the birth of my son was a loss I still feel every day. He and my mother adopted me when I was a baby on a very lucky day 52 years ago
What Wows Me:
- Spencer, my nine-year-old, every day
- Eighteen mountain gorillas in Rwanda
- Random acts of kindness