News & Politics

Washingtonian’s Best Longreads of 2022

10 great feature stories we published this year

Okay, sure: you could go outside and take advantage of our much less frightful, somewhat more delightful holiday weekend weather. (If you do, we have you covered). But you could also choose to kick back, grab a drink, leave the year-end hustle and bustle to others, and immerse yourself in the following feature stories. And yes, that’s a hint!

The January Sixers Have Their Own Unit at the DC Jail. Here’s What Life Is Like Inside

Following the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, dozens of ultra-MAGA, would-be insurrectionists ended up in DC Jail. And as Andrew Beaujon reports, their life behind bars has been as deeply weird—and downright troubling—as you might expect. The Sixers put on their own comedy shows. They use hair removal cream to painfully groom their heads, because the jailhouse barbershop requires COVID vaccination for entry and, well, yeah. They chant “USA! USA!” and “Let’s go, Brandon!” when Marjorie Taylor Greene shows up for a sympathetic visit. Mostly they complain, a lot, about the indignities of incarceration: having to share the same nail clipper, a lack of organic food options, and far more serious problems, including mistreatment by guards and inadequate medical care. In a surprising twist, the latter turns the Sixers—and their GOP sympathizers in Congress—into accidental prison reformers, resulting in an investigation that exposes longtime and systemic failures at the facility.

Inside Georgetown’s Disastrous Student Government Election


For decades, Georgetown University has been a spawning ground for future political elites—including Bill Clinton—which is why Sylvie McNamara dug deeply into the school’s recent and absolutely bonkers election for student body president. Stop us if this sounds familiar: A flawed establishment candidate becomes a magnet for voters’ ire. A charismatic outsider draws disaffected voters to their cause. One side fails to consolidate, assuming their opponent is a farce. Scandals abound. Voters grow nihilistic. The candidate with the most votes doesn’t win. I don’t want to give away any more of the story, but I will say this: when Emperor Palpatine makes an appearance, it’s more appropriate—and amusing—than anything he did in The Rise of Skywalker.

A Real Estate Nightmare on Foxhall Road

A high-profile restauranteur and a general contractor who built many of his restaurants get into the home-building business, promising to revolutionize residential construction with prefab components manufactured by robots that eliminate human error. What could possibly go wrong? Just about everything. This is a horror film dressed up as a real estate story, and as Marisa Kashino takes you through a never-ending array of disasters befalling the poor owners of the “salt and pepper” houses in DC’s Palisades neighborhood—constant leaks, mold, sewage in the basement, failing heat and air conditioning, electrical problems, and rotting beams that could cause structural collapse—you may find yourself yelling “GET OUT!” at the screen.

Inside the Extra-Pricey, Extra-Fabulous Birthday Bashes That Guilt-Ridden DC-Area Parents Are Throwing for Their Kids

Supermarket sheet cake and delivery pizza at a public park playground? No chance. Rented backyard bounce house and a children’s magician? Puh-leeze. Wealthy area parents are transforming their kids’ birthday parties into pricey extravaganzas that wouldn’t be out of place on an episode of the “Real Housewives” franchise. Jessica Sidman and Daniella Byck have all the dishy, jaw-dropping details, including a $13,000, bunny-themed garden party for a six-year-old that took weeks to source and three days to construct. 

Javanka in Exile

Photo courtesy of the White House.

Remember Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, the Trump administration Nepo Babies who somehow  got high level security clearances and became responsible for Middle East peace and, um, whatever Ivanka was doing? In the wake of daddy Donald’s inglorious exit from the White House, the wannabe DC power couple has decamped to a small town in South Florida, where Bob Norman finds that the MAGA mayor is thrilled to have them—and other locals are, well, not.

Seb Audy Is a World Bank Manager Turned Corporate Executive—and One of the World’s Most Daring Polar Explorers

Mike Mooney profiles Sebastien Andy, a middle-aged husband and father from Bethesda, is also an obsessive mountaineer—a man with the body of a pro athlete who trains 25 hours a week, for months on end, to prepare for grueling and dangerous wilderness treks that highlight the impact of climate change. Having already summited the highest mountains on six of the seven continents, he set off in the spring of 2021 on a journey that was supposed to cross 1,200 miles of Greenland, traversing the frozen island nation via snowkite. What happened next was shocking—and tragic.

This George Mason Professor Trains Weathercasters to Be Climate Advocates

Ed Maibach works daily to alert Americans to the dangers of climate change. But rather waving a NO FOSSIL FUELS banner from atop a tall building or protesting outside a congressional lawmaker’s home, this George Mason University professor deploys a behind-the-scenes strategy that would impress the savviest operators on K Street: cultivating a coast-to-coast network of TV weathercasters who believe that educating their audiences about global warming is as crucial as telling them when to bring an umbrella. The initiative, known as Climate Matters, has forced Maibach to confront a series of entrenched problems inside the broadcast-­meteorology community, including alarming levels of climate denial and skepticism, fears about alienating audiences, and the occasional harassment of participating weathercasters. Yet as Luke Mullins discovers, Maibach and a a team of academic researchers, data crunchers, and ex-weathercasters are pioneering a promising new approach to a complex crisis.

UFO Lobbyist’s Quest to Prove to the Government That Alien Life Exists

From declassified Pentagon footage of mysterious objects darting across the sky to actual, serious, no-joke Congressional hearings, unidentified aerial phenomena are having a cultural and political moment—one that Stephen Bassett has been waiting years for. As DC’s first registered UFO lobbyist, Basset has spent more than a quarter century pleading for lawmakers to stop snickering at the issue, and for the White House to make “disclosure,” what Basset describes as  “The President of the United States” publicly confirming that “the extraterrestrial presence is in fact real—[that] we are not alone in the universe.” Luke Mullins explores the oft-lonely life and dogged persistence of a man who believes—who knows—that the truth is out there.

Immersive Experiences Are Having a Moment—Their Cathartic Nature May Be Why

In recent years, so-called immersive experiences have exploded in popularity worldwide, with many making their way to Washington. Natalie Gontcharova went to as many as she could—including ones centered around the art of Vincent van Gogh, the TV show The Office, and the cartoon film The Little Mermaid—in order to understand how and why they are connecting with audiences. Along the way, she realized that immersive experiences are basically mass group therapy, a salve for the stress of our never-really-­over pandemic, increasingly worrisome politics, and everything else that in recent years has left us feeling isolated and burned out.

Why Old Bay Is Suddenly on Everything

Marylanders have loved Old Bay for generations, but as Sylvie McNamara discovered, lately things have escalated. In the past few years, everyone in the blast radius of the Chesapeake has been bombarded with content featuring the regional seafood seasoning: Old Bay hot sauce, Old Bay beer, Old Bay vodka, Old Bay bikinis and socks and Christmas sweaters, the Old Bay mascot dancing on TikTok—the list goes on, and even includes Old Bay caramel popcorn and goldfish crackers. How did this happen? The story of the Old Bay brand renaissance is one part ingenious viral marketing and many parts people who simply cannot get enough of how it tastes, a cult of superfans who say things like, “I feel like I was born with Old Bay in my veins. Like, I came out cracking crabs.” Please seek medical attention!

Patrick Hruby
Deputy Editor