Ode to Robert D. McFadden, Prose-Poet of New York Times Blizzard Coverage

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Taking a break from this blog’s missions on All-American traumatic brain injury and child sexual abuse, I extend a wish for the warmth and safety of everyone in the northeastern United States today. That goes especially for veteran New York Times reporter Robert D. McFadden, who is missing from the newspaper’s blizzard coverage for the first time in my memory.

Ever since I was a teenager, I have marveled at the sinuous and seamless rewrite skills of Mr. McFadden, who is 75 and, I believe, now assigned exclusively to advance long-form obituaries. (His latest last week on Ed Koch, the former mayor, was a typical gem.)

I’ve never met Mr. McFadden, though I’ve corresponded with him (see below). I picture him as a neo-Victorian figure, bridging the worlds of clackety portable Underwoods and ethereal PC’s. What marked his weather-disaster Page One overviews, as well as multi-correspondent rewrites of other big stories, was more than just thoroughness and professionalism. There were always signature gusts of prose-poetry, like unique crystals of celestial dust, all in muscular and mostly one-graf-at-a-time Timesese. In asides of anecdote and description, he managed to give a storm humanity and majesty, along with awe and destruction.

Admittedly, his career mostly predated the Weather Channel and climate change — an altogether more languid epoch when the perception,at least, was that a blizzard was inconvenient, not biblical.

After reading Mr. McFadden on the winter storm of 2006, I sent him a fan letter by email. “After more than two decades in the San Francisco Bay Area, what I still most miss about my seven-plus years in New York is a good winter blizzard,” I wrote. “But through your work I get the vicarious next best thing…. And how many years have you been doing this? I always share your minor masterpieces with my kids — especially with my oldest, who is about to head off to college next fall at Columbia.”

To my delight, Mr. McFadden wrote back:

“Thanks for your kind words. I value your opinion. To answer your question, I’ve been doing this stuff for 48 years, 45 of them with The Times, and it’s still a challenge and a thrill. Good luck to the prospective Columbia student. Allbest, Bob”

Irv Muchnick

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick