He attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and graduated from the journalism school of the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1960 with a Bachelor of Surgery in Journalism.
He moved to New York City in 1961 with the intention of applying to only one newspaper - the only paper for which he wanted to work - and his hopes were realized when he was soon hired by The New York Times. McFadden, a celebrated Senior Writer, has remained at the Times for over 50 years, and continues his work through the present day. From 1957 to 1958, McFadden was a reporter for The Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune.
From 1958 to 1959, he was a reporter for The Wisconsin State Journal in Madison and after he graduated from college, worked for The Cincinnati Enquirer.
In 1961, he was hired by The New York Times, where he remainined for the next five decades as a reporter and rewrite manitoba His writing has covered a wide range of topics including plane crashes, hurricanes, strikes, blackouts, government affairs, health, crime, transportation, politics, education, the environment, and mass media.