In The Know

Cynthia McFadden opens up about work, family — and her distrust of 'people who don't like food'

Cynthia McFadden can pinpoint the moment she knew she wanted to be a journalist.

"I can remember laying on my tummy in the living room watching Watergate unfold, and thinking I want to have a chair in that room," McFadden says. "I was obsessed."

So the once wide-eyed kid - the first in her family to go to college - turned her childhood fantasy into a reality. NBC News's senior legal and investigative correspondent since 2014 says her latest report takes her to a New Mexico desert town for what she calls a "very close, human look" at the increasingly desperate situation with migrant families along the southern border with Mexico.

"On Mother's Day weekend, 250 migrants - they were all family groups who were applying for asylum - were left at the McDonald's in Deming, N.M. They didn't have any money, any food, and they didn't have any idea where they were," says McFadden of her report, which airs in two parts: Tuesday on "NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt" and Wednesday on "Today."

The 63-year-old reporting pro joined actress Jennifer Garner and the charitable organization Save the Children for a look at what she calls a "humanitarian crisis."

"It's the first time video cameras have ever been in any kind of migrant housing facility," McFadden says. "This is really a story about the generosity of the people of Deming, N.M., who just opened their arms and their hearts and embraced these folks."

When she's not traveling the world for work, McFadden is embracing being a mom to her son, a college freshman. But she credits - or perhaps blames - him for taking up a few of her favorite activities.

"A few years ago my [then-]teenage son said, 'Mom, you need a hobby.' I said, 'You're my hobby,' " she exclaims. "And he said, 'My point, precisely.' "

Since then, McFadden says she does all kinds of things, including tennis, gardening and painting. "I do those things when I really need a dose of sanity," she says, before adding with a laugh, "And I harass my son."

We wanted to know more about the investigating guru, so we asked her to answer these questions.

Grew up in: Auburn, Maine

College attended: Bowdoin College

After work, you'll find me: Probably making dinner. I do enjoy cooking. I love to eat so I love to cook. You'll be finding me trying to make something that's both delicious and low-calorie.

Favorite/most hated food: I love Asian cuisine of all kinds. And I really don't like healthy eating. I don't trust people who don't like food. 

I love to eat. I love the society of eating. I love the process of making the food, of shopping for the food, of eating the food, of talking to people while I'm making the food. It would be hard to find a food group that I don't like. I also find that food goes very well with every emotion: if I'm happy I eat, if I'm sad I eat, if I'm angry I eat. So it's a bit of an issue.  

Favorite band: Do The Supremes count? I love The Supremes. I'm sort of stuck in the 1960s and '70s with my music taste. So thank God for "Best of the '60s and '70s" on Pandora.

I'm happiest when: I'm with my son.

What's at the top of your bucket list: I get to live out so many of my dreams. I would like to go around the world for a year. That's what I'd like to do.

If I wasn't a journalist I would be a: Doctor. I'd be like a [general practitioner], a little town doctor.

I worked as a volunteer in the hospital when I was a kid, became president of the candy stripers. And I was really serious about it, but it was in the days before - I was afraid I wasn't going to be good enough in the science and the math part of things. If I'd been been growing up today, someone would've told me that girls do STEM too and they can do it really well, but that wasn't the environment that I was growing up in.

I have a fear of: I'm terrified of snakes, really scared of snakes. I made my peace with spiders, not thrilled with them either.

[ITK notes that McFadden is frightened by crawling critters but not world leaders.] 

World leaders don't scare me. Although some of them might be snakes. That was a joke!

Pets: We have a dog. His name is Ernie, [my son] named him for Ernest Hemingway. He's a King Charles spaniel and he runs the house.  

Something that few know about you: I have auditory dyslexia, which is a really weird thing for a person who's on television. 

It was diagnosed when I was in high school. But literally I have no ability to phonetically sound out anything. I have my own system. So when I was anchoring 'Nightline' at ABC, people would crack up because the teleprompter - I would have to turn into this kind of language only my own in order to be able to read it in the way and at the speed you have to do it. I'm a real trial to my producers because I'm a big mispronouncer and they often have to say, 'No, do that again.'

I'm also adopted, I don't know if people know that. I was lucky enough to be adopted by two incredible people in Auburn, Maine, when I was a baby.

Biggest pet peeve: I used to have so many of them and it was exhausting me so I tried to give up my pet peeves. But I don't like it when people pull out phones at the dinner table. You will only do it once at my house. And sometimes this happens at work where you're talking to someone and they're typing or looking at their email or whatever while you're talking to them - it so drives me crazy. So usually my new technique is I just stop talking until they stop doing it.

Best advice given: 'Confidence is very appealing.' I was complaining about being nervous about doing something and a friend of mine said, 'Cynthia just remember that confidence is very appealing.' I try to be confident, even when I'm not. 

This story has been updated.

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