A mommy influencer in Louisville, Kentucky, is hawking a cucumber face wipe on Instagram. She leans into the camera and presses a moist tissue to her chin. She tells her audience she swears by it. Later that day, she’s back online to conscript her blond toddler son into a sponsored post for a children’s book called Pete the Hungry Pig. Her name is Kaelin Armstrong Dunn, and she is 29 years old. She has five children, a husband, and pets. She shills relentlessly. Chex. Duracell. An invention that detects alcohol content in breast milk. At 47,400 followers, Dunn qualifies as a top-tier micro-influencer and is tantalizingly close to the sponcon big leagues.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, Dunn stays on brand. Except in early November 2019, a few days after the face-wipe post, she publishes an uncharacteristic #ad for Kentucky Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear. “A few reason [sic] I plan to vote for Andy Beshear is because he’s not Matt Bevin, he’s a democrat and he wants to fix the pension plan for for [sic] ALL teachers and not just SOME!,” she writes. In the photo, she is holding a child. “He also wants to get rid of right to work, he’s pro union, and my favorite he gets his kids their shots 😂!”
Dunn may well support Beshear, who defeated the Republican incumbent, Matt Bevin, the next day by a mere 5,086 votes. But she plugged him online because a Manhattan-based tech entrepreneur named Curtis Hougland paid her $100 to. Hougland, 52, runs a 13-person start-up that hires social-media influencers to do cheerful propaganda for political clients — in this case, the Kentucky Democratic Party. Once their posts are out in the wild, his firm, Main Street One, plucks high-performing content and turns it into digital advertising. On Election Day, the party ran Facebook ads featuring Dunn’s Instagram post.
“People don’t want journalistic content — this idea of ripping a headline from the Grand Rapids paper and making it into an ad,” Hougland says. Instead, his idea for 2020 will be to mobilize this influencer brigade against the president. “So if Trump said to the people of Youngstown, Ohio, ‘Don’t sell your homes or mortgages, because your job’s going nowhere’ and then the GM plant closes? At that moment, you gotta be ready with your creator network.”
Hougland’s shop, which began operating earlier this year, announces itself with the high-minded tagline “We Fix Internet Discourse.” Hougland, sandy-haired and cherub-faced, has a resistance crusader’s faith that the forces standing in the way of Democratic victory are partisan fake news and foreign disinformation. “We’re not going to make up information,” he tells me. “We’re not going to use bots.” Just the opposite, he argues. What could be more real than a first-person testimonial? (So what if it’s pay-for-play?) And while his righteous indignation can seem at odds with his current venture, he’s one of the few Democrats pushing the envelope on the staid left-wing internet. For many progressives, the question seems to be whether they can have an impact online without further messing with democracy. In other words, how far will they go to win?
A decade ago, in the era of proverbial hope and change, the internet was Democratic territory. Like Hollywood, like the music industry, it was run by media elites and young people, rendering it seemingly impenetrable to conservatives. Maybe it was complacency, or maybe it was a certain vital energy shifting to the weirder, darker corners of the social web rather than the ad-agency-approved mainstream of microtargeted emails, but there’s a consensus that Democrats lost the internet in 2016. Or, really, lost Facebook, which has become tantamount to losing the internet. There was, of course, Russian disinformation and Macedonian fake news, but also there was a social-media strategy based on ironic memes, conspiracy signaling, and invented content that has since become de rigueur in the Republican Party. For instance, in November, on the first day of impeachment hearings, the Arizona congressman Paul Gosar, elected in the tea-party wave of 2010, crafted a 23-tweet thread defending the president. Together, the first letters of each tweet spelled out “Epstein didn’t kill himself.”
This election cycle, Democrats are again struggling to compete. Lefty Twitter is active and funny but is mainly devoted to tearing down centrist-seeming Democratic candidates (like “Mayo Pete,” as his extremely online antagonists have christened him). Instead, almost all of the most-viral content is coming from the Trump right. A video of Joe Biden massaging his own shoulders was created by a Kansas-based meme-lord who goes by Carpe Donktum and was invited to the White House over the summer. Both Donald Trump and Donald Jr. tweeted it out. The parody site JoeBiden.info — now advertising JOE BIDEN TOUCHED ME T-shirts, in what looks like official campaign font — was created by someone working for Trump’s reelection campaign. After climate activist Greta Thunberg was named Time’s Person of the Year, the campaign Photoshopped Trump’s head onto her body and used the parody cover in a tweet.
“If you talk to Democratic institutions, they have a research team; they have a mobilization team that has an earned-media, paid-media, and social-media person. They have all these silos,” Hougland says. Trump, by contrast, understands that “it’s not paid or earned. Not fake or real. Not machine or human. Not foreign or domestic. All part of the same discourse.” (And, not insignificantly, he’s also outspending all the leading Democrats online.)
Democrats are trying to course-correct. LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman has emerged as an internet-first megadonor whose resistance-y fund Investing in Us is backing the political tech accelerator Higher Ground Labs (not to be confused with Higher Ground Productions, the Obamas’ Netflix shop), which is in turn funding Hougland’s influencer gambit. A lot of cash is pouring into a buzzy digital agency called Acronym, led by Obamaworld veterans. And then there’s Mike Bloomberg, who is planning an unprecedented nine-figure digital-ad campaign.
It’s not yet clear what kind of national appetite there is for sponsored Instagram posting. Politicians have balked at paying influencers, and it’s harder to get social-media personalities to create pro bono content for individual candidates than for causes, like abortion rights or climate change. For the most part, Beshear preferred volunteers, and as a result, many of the 122 influencers who flacked for him in Kentucky looked less like apolitical moms and more like activists — which wasn’t ideal.
It’s one thing to invest in digital media. It’s another to get a distractible and polarized electorate to pay attention to it, and bend the rules of polite discourse in your direction. Especially if to “go low,” as Michelle Obama decreed, goes against implicit party rules. “We historically have tried to be very controlled and disciplined with our messages,” says Higher Ground Labs co-founder Shomik Dutta. “But while you may have more integrity, [you] are limited to where it can go and where you can push it. So we need a way around that — without losing our integrity.” Or, as one staffer for an expired Democratic presidential campaign put it to me, “I think the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats is the Republicans have no compunction about creating content that’s complete bullshit.”
Why doesn’t the left have its own Breitbart? David Brock, the Clinton dirt digger turned loyalist, asked himself the same question. He presides over the massive Democratic opposition-research shop American Bridge. Once upon a time, American Bridge was cutting edge. It started the video-tracking revolution, deploying dead-eyed camerapeople to trawl Republican events around the country. By late 2016, Brock, reeling from Hillary Clinton’s loss, announced he was turning his pro-Clinton website Shareblue into a “Breitbart for the Left.” Now rebranded the American Independent, the site has built up an impressive following, but its HuffPost-style journalism doesn’t seem to have made a dent outside the liberal bubble. A handful of nimbler outfits have begun experimenting.
The first major opportunity came in late 2017 before the special election between Doug Jones and Roy Moore for the Alabama Senate seat vacated by incoming attorney general Jeff Sessions. Watching from New York was David Goldstein, a buzz-cut 40-year-old who lives on Roosevelt Island. He had worked in the Obama years for A-list Democratic polling firms and in 2017 was employed at a midtown PR firm. Goldstein is a self-taught data analyst with an intense, obsessive personality — he trained to be an opera singer in his 20s — and his new focus was voter persuasion.
Like Brock, he was fixated on Breitbart and its ultrarich patron, Robert Mercer. But hyperpartisan content wasn’t likely to win political converts. To change minds in Alabama, he’d have to obscure his partisan intentions. Goldstein called his operation Tovo Labs, which sounded techie and official, but it was basically just him, during off hours, working from his laptop. The plan: He would create targeted digital ads aimed at three cohorts of Alabama voters — Democrats, moderate Republicans, and conservative Republicans — to swing votes in Jones’s direction. Many of the ads themselves were dinky little animated gifs and would run everywhere from Facebook to Infowars to the Times. By design, they’d look like the kind of cheapo stuff heavy Facebook users tend to click on.
Goldstein’s Democrats were fed ads bearing messages like “Our Democracy Will Fail Without You” and were directed to a website that allowed them to look up their polling places. Moderate Republicans got “Don’t Be Ashamed to Vote” and “Vote for Honor Dec 12,” leading them to testimonials from Alabama conservatives urging write-in votes for Luther Strange, the Establishment Republican whom Moore had defeated in the primary.
Then came the conservative voters. “As far as I know,” Goldstein says, “nobody blatantly bragged about going after the other side’s base with a dedicated digital-ad campaign until Trump’s guy did.” He’s referring to Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2016 digital director and current campaign manager. “So I was like, ‘Let’s suppress the vote.’ ” Conservatives got ads that read, “Alabama’s Great Shame” or “Destroying Alabama’s Honor,” and they were directed to news clips of prominent Evangelicals arguing against Moore’s candidacy. (Goldstein came up with his ad copy using social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s research on political tribalism.)
Goldstein wasn’t the only Democrat using the special election as a petri dish. Matt Osborne, a native Alabamian and gadfly activist, created a social-media campaign suggesting that Moore supported alcohol prohibition to try to freak out moderate Republicans. An Austin-based disinformation-research outfit, however, reportedly created a “pro-Moore” Facebook page in order to feed its followers anti-Moore content. Both efforts were indirectly funded by Hoffman’s Investing in Us. (The Austin firm has been linked to a “false flag” effort to sic fake Russian Twitter bots on Moore’s campaign, but the firm’s CEO wouldn’t talk to me and no one can really figure out if that’s true.)
What differentiated Goldstein’s efforts were his attempts to demonstrate that he had affected the race. He picked three state-senate districts that would see the ads and three comparable districts that wouldn’t. He sent out his experimental group, and from there, he measured turnout. The results were remarkable: In each district where he ran the experiment, Democratic turnout was substantially higher than expected and conservative turnout substantially lower. (In previous years, turnout had been almost identical in the control and the treatment districts.)
There’s virtually no way the Democratic turnout spike, let alone Jones’s victory, was Goldstein’s doing alone. His reach wasn’t wide enough. And it’s possible he had no effect at all. But in a race decided by a just few more than 20,000 votes, his ads — which cost $85,000, were aimed at a sliver of the state, and ran for seven days prior to the election — were seen over 4 million times. At a minimum, you wonder what might have happened if he’d been able to scale up.
If liberals can’t quite bring themselves to be Breitbart, maybe there are other ways to win Facebook. (And anyway, Breitbart’s audience has been in decline.) The biggest buyer of Facebook ads during the 2018 midterm election was erstwhile liberal savior Beto O’Rourke, then running for Senate in Texas, according to data from an online transparency project at NYU. The second-biggest buyer was an outfit nobody had heard of called News for Democracy. Based in Colorado, it apparently operated in tandem with three opaque sister LLCs. The group ran no fewer than 48 Facebook pages targeting different audiences: BroAmerica, Women for Civility, Melanin, Better With Age. Many of these pages had accumulated anywhere from 5,000 to 12,000 subscribers sharing memes or news articles relevant to their subject matter a couple of times a day.
The ads promoting each of these pages evinced loosely pro-liberal messages tweaked to match the sensibility of its intended audience. For instance, Drain the Swamp News shared memes that painted Brett Kavanaugh as a deep-state tool. Some pages went after sitting Republicans; others blasted more generic content in states with close Senate elections with names like Gulf State News or That’s Just North Dakota.
The highest-spending page, at $1.2 million, was Our Flag Our Country. One of its ads targeted mostly at women in New York State, which earned between 10,000 and 50,000 impressions, featured a video of a middle-aged white guy complaining into the camera. “How do I feel when I turn on the TV on a Sunday and see a wealthy celebrity player take a knee?,” he asked. “Frankly, it bothers me.” But, he continued, it bothers him even more that Trump uses the issue to divide the country. A Trump voter in 2016, he’d be voting Democrat in the midterms. An entirely different ad for an entirely different page featured a younger guy in a hoodie reciting a nearly identical script. How did he feel about football players who took knees? Actually, he felt pretty good about it! He’d be voting Democrat in November. It’s impossible to tell from the ads whether the men are paid actors.
These pages were traced back to a 32-year-old ex-Vice and Bloomberg journalist named Dan Fletcher, who ran a Denver creative agency called MotiveAI, which was funded by — what else? — Hoffman’s Investing in Us. News for Democracy, timed to the midterm elections and walking the line on fake news, was Hoffman’s gutsiest play yet.
Fletcher’s goal wasn’t to reproduce viral clickbait with a leftward slant, though. It was to slip liberal messaging to audiences that didn’t necessarily trust liberals. “The question is,” says one MotiveAI backer who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record, “Is there anything that can be done to actually deliver facts to groups that otherwise refuse to hear them because of the messenger?”
Facebook’s potential for subtle propaganda hasn’t totally been lost on other Democrats. During the midterms, Ohio gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray ran ads under a bland page called Ohio Newswire. The Environmental Defense Fund did likewise, using Breaking News Texas. But in terms of scale and audacity, nobody came close to Fletcher.
A few weeks after the midterm elections, the New York Times and the Washington Post published stories about the “Russian style” tactics in Alabama. Several people involved had their Facebook accounts removed. Hoffman apologized, although Investing in Us has clarified that his own money didn’t fund the prohibitionist false flag. Fletcher’s project, which had far greater reach, didn’t violate any Facebook rules. “There is a substantive moral difference in disseminating misinformation versus creating misleading IDs and disseminating facts,” a Fletcher backer told me, echoing a common sentiment in Hoffman’s political orbit. Still though, following some unwanted PR around a misogynistic Facebook page aimed at “Keg Bros,” News for Democracy all but ceased publishing in the wake of the election. Hoffman, meanwhile, has ramped up his giving to the Democratic National Committee.
David Goldstein’s career as a digital ratfucker didn’t last long either. After Doug Jones pulled off the upset, Goldstein signed on to create Alabama-style Facebook ads for Andrew Gillum’s Florida gubernatorial bid. But when Gillum’s people saw the ads — some voters were served a big-headed, orange-faced caricature of Trump — they freaked out and yanked them. The last time I spoke with him, Goldstein was advising a couple of guys from a labor union in Australia.
But the presidential race brought new pressure to create alternatives to paid media — not unlike what Fletcher, Goldstein, and Hougland had been attempting to do. In September, President Trump’s reelection campaign released a false ad on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter that repeated one of the several dubious Ukraine-Biden theories at the heart of the Republican impeachment defense. Facebook, per its policy, refused to remove it. Google, however, has since decided to restrict targeted political ads, and Twitter has banned political ads altogether.
“With less ability to target with our advertising online, we will not be able to be as granular,” says Betsy Hoover, who ran digital organizing at Obama for America and is the other co-founder of Higher Ground Labs. “We’ll have to rely even more on rapid and authentic content creation.”
But nobody on the liberal mainstream seems very good at “rapid and authentic” at the moment. In October, an MIT graduate and Silicon Valley veteran named Misha Leybovich created something called the Warren Meme Team, news of which broke in the Times. No memorable pro-Warren memes have resulted; instead, the Reddit page r/WarrensMemeTeam immediately became populated with anti-Warren memes. Meanwhile, top Democratic advocacy group Priorities USA began experimenting with a new tactic to complement its massive battleground-state media buys: populating social-media pages in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin with locally focused content. As of press time, its four Facebook pages have accumulated a total of 289 likes. (A Priorities spokesperson said the numbers were low because the pages were mainly meant to reach journalists. “We’re not trying to organically get our content in front of voters. We pay to do that.”)
With the exception of Andrew Yang’s #yanggang and some ironic Marianne Williamson love on Twitter, the candidates themselves have mostly failed to channel the internet Zeitgeist. Cory Booker hired a “millennial and influencer engagement” director, but Booker’s girlfriend, Rosario Dawson, has probably had more success in that department simply by appearing with the candidate on-camera. The Pete Buttigieg campaign’s brand bible of shareable logos and typefaces — so fans can create their own official-looking content — are as uncool as they sound. Would-be digital pioneer Beto O’Rourke just wound up livestreaming his campaign’s demise.
One of the Higher Ground investments is in a company called Wethos, which aims to match campaigns with creatives. I mentioned to Wethos’ marketing director, Anjelica Triola, that I wasn’t seeing much edgy content coming from the Democratic Party. “Do you know why?,” she asked me. “No one will commission it.”
“We say this all the time,” she continued. “When the fuck is somebody going to let us build, like, a Glossier model of paid influencers? But nobody on the Democratic side gets it yet. And it’s wild but true that it benefits them to lose control of the message.”
Tucked away on page 46 of a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence–requested report concerning Russian disinformation in the 2016 presidential election is a fascinating detail. Almost every piece of political content that Russia’s Internet Research Agency shared via shady accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter was created in-house — except, the report concluded, for memes created by Turning Point USA, a conservative campus organization. Not only did the IRA distribute these widely but they branded them as their own.
Founded in 2012, TPUSA has found its footing in the Trump era as a de facto youth wing of the administration. And what started as a campus-organizing vehicle has diversified into a gigantic content creator devoted to churning out viral pro-Trump memes and videos. In July, TPUSA held its second annual Teen Student Action Summit at a hotel in downtown Washington, D.C. On the day I attended, the president himself was delivering a speech, which meant hordes of preppy teenagers in red baseball caps had camped out overnight in the lobby to secure good seats. MAGA internet personalities were in abundance. Waiting for the president, the crowd hailed the arrival of @fleccas, a.k.a. Austen Fletcher, who interviews people on YouTube with a spoon taped to his microphone and has around 275,000 Instagram followers. Mobbed, he was forced to take endless selfies.
For me, the draw was Benny Johnson. Johnson’s journalism career, at BuzzFeed and elsewhere, had been marred by plagiarism scandals, which hadn’t prevented him from attaining his current job as chief creative officer of Turning Point USA, where he is paid to make memes. Dressed in a sharp blue suit and a teal necktie, Johnson assumed the stage at 9 a.m. to EDM beats and revival-tent pandemonium. “This is amazing!,” he yells. “Preach! Who wants to go to a church? Who wants to go to a meme church?”
Johnson played a clip of former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders mocking a CNN reporter. “What savagery! We’re living in a savage environment,” he said. “We are living in a new world. The world of my dreams. A savage world where politics and meme culture have become one.”
The bulk of Johnson’s presentation, called “How Conservatives Are Winning the Meme Wars,” focused on a meme he had created of Senator Lindsey Graham during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings. The image may be familiar even to those who don’t follow @TPUSA: It shows Graham smiling and coolly adjusting his tie as a female protester yells in the background. Johnson had been filming Graham as he walked from the Capitol to his SUV; later, at his desk, Johnson froze the video and saw internet gold. The image — self-assured Republican owns hysterical lib — went viral, and the meme became known as “Based Lindsey Graham.” Based Lindsey Graham then turned into a fad called “Grahaming,” in which conservatives adjust their ties for the camera. Graham now can’t go anywhere without someone wanting to Graham with him. Inevitably, people starting setting the video clip to music: “Ring of Fire,” “I Will Always Love You,” “Old Town Road.” The meme works.
Johnson argued that he has cornered the niche market, where liberals are no longer winning the culture war. “ ‘Why the left can’t meme’: That’s sort of the thesis of my show,” he told me later on. “It’s very simple. They’re not funny. Do you ever watch late-night television? Orange man bad. NPC. We’re allowed to laugh still. We’re allowed to think things are funny.” (“NPC” is gaming argot for “non-player character” and maga shorthand for a stilted, humorless lib. It has become a meme.)
But it’s the White House’s explicit embrace of figures like Johnson that has turned TPUSA into an unofficial administration content machine. It’s difficult to imagine that happening in quite the same way on the left. “I walk into the White House,” Johnson said, referring to the social-media summit that took place over the summer. “What’s printed out on giant poster boards? Memes. It’s incredible. Funny memes.”
A little over two years ago, some unusual political activity was taking place during a mayoral election in Lewiston, Maine. The Democratic candidate and favorite to win was Ben Chin, organizer for a progressive advocacy group. The Republican was Shane Bouchard, a city councilman. In early December, just over a week before the election, a blind item appeared in a largely dormant conservative website called the Maine Examiner, reporting that Chin had sent an email to his staff claiming that “voters in Lewiston’s Ward 6 are racists.” What Chin actually said was that he had encountered a “bunch of racists” (plus non-racists) while knocking on doors. But the damage was done. The Maine Republican Party promoted the story heavily, and the email “scandal” dominated the last week of the campaign.
It turns out one of Chin’s volunteers, Heather Everly Berube, had been having an affair with Bouchard during the campaign. At some point, she had forwarded Chin’s email to Bouchard, and from there, it ended up on the Examiner — which, as it happens, was owned and operated by a man named Jason Savage, the director of the Maine Republican Party. Chin lost the election by 145 votes.
A while back, I heard the progressive digital strategist Tara McGowan use a term for certain sites. Owned media, she called them, as in, you own all the content, so you can publish whatever you want. This is exactly what Savage did via the Examiner, where he had exploited the gaps in local-news coverage. A more prominent case study occurred in early 2019, when a conservative website called Big League Politics, owned by a political operative, broke the Ralph Northam blackface scandal.
The number of newsy-looking, hyperpartisan websites like this is growing, almost entirely on the right. In 2017, a Breitbart contributor named Michael Patrick Leahy started a site called the Tennessee Star, which has since expanded to include the Ohio Star, the Minnesota Sun, and the Michigan Star. None of them run much local news. Several times over the summer, Trump’s Facebook page linked to the Minnesota Sun, which published an op-ed by the chief operating officer of Trump’s reelection campaign. In 2018, California representative Devin Nunes promoted right-wing stories on a bogus site called the California Republican.
This is the space McGowan initially sought to infiltrate. If Democrats couldn’t compete with puerile internet humor, local news seemed like a more winnable space. In 2016, she was the digital director for the Priorities USA super-PAC. Frustrated by its hidebound, TV-ad-centric playbook, after the election she started her own shop, Acronym, armed with high-profile donors and partners like former Obama consigliere David Plouffe.
Last summer, Acronym began funding the Dogwood, a Virginia-centric media outlet designed to take market share away from the likes of Big League Politics. An Arizona equivalent followed in the fall, and Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Michigan sites have been staffing up. McGowan’s is framing partisan content as straight news, yes, but she’s also hiring real journalists and not making stuff up.
Perhaps as a result, the sites seem to lack viral potential, specializing in light outrage bait like “How much does college cost in Virginia? A lot.” The Dogwood was promoted heavily on Facebook in the run-up to the 2019 Virginia election, in which Democrats swept both chambers of the state legislature. But its Facebook page has just a little over 5,000 fans and, on many posts, fairly low engagement. Mostly, it resembles a local spin on ThinkProgress, the liberal blog that recently ceased publishing.
This past fall, Acronym announced a $75 million digital-ad campaign aimed at voters in swing states. Maybe that’s the more realistic path for now. “I just can’t see us making our own Fox News,” Betsy Hoover of Higher Ground Labs tells me. Or populate “the darker corners of the internet down the line.”
But maybe there are compromises the Democratic Party is learning to make. A couple days before Thanksgiving, BuzzFeed News reported that a pro-Cory Booker super-PAC, United We Win, had placed an ad on a leading influencer marketplace, AspireIQ, looking for fund-raisers: “Tell your supporters to keep Cory in the fight with a small donation.” A debate broke out in the influencer community about whether or not the posting was appropriate, and AspireIQ pulled its ad.
Quietly, though, United We Win kept the influencer outreach alive. It had also solicited ads on Tidal Labs and Tribe, two similar marketplaces, and eventually commissioned 37 influencers to flack for Booker, about half of whom were paid between $100 and $500 per post. (The other half volunteered.) The campaign ran for two weeks, ending on December 13, and yielded 140 pieces of original content. Which is why a ripped, often shirtless influencer called Derrick Downey Jr. posted an Instagram post of himself using a weight machine on December 9.
Being fit physical consist of determination, hard work, care and zero excuses. The same principles apply when I look for someone to provide leadership for our country. That’s why I believe #CoryBooker is fit for the job. #UnitedWeWin #ad PAID FOR UNITED WE WIN SUPER PAC
I asked Curtis Hougland, the influencer broker of Main Street One, if he was behind them. He declined to comment. I checked the Federal Election Commission website. The pro-Booker super-PAC had reported independent expenditures of $525,846. Their recipient: Main Street One. #Sponcon has arrived in this presidential race. It’s a little gross. That might be okay?
*This article appears in the December 23, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!