Rabbit Hole: "Room Rater" is What's Wrong with the Media
It tickles the egos of journalists and pundits, who gleefully play along. But that's not the worst part.
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I’m often jealous of people who are not on Twitter. It must be a more satisfying existence. If you weren’t on Twitter, you would not be familiar with an account called “Room Rater,” which goes by the handle @RateMySkypeRoom. The account is pretty self-explanatory - it rates the backgrounds of cable news talking heads.
Like many terrible new additions to our culture, this started as a result of the COVID pandemic, when the country locked down and everyone started doing TV hits from home, using Skype or Zoom and trying to make a presentable backdrop. While the pandemic is over, media companies realized they didn’t have to pay for TV studios for every one-off reporter or pundit appearance, so these home set-ups have remained an element of news broadcasts, even in 2023.
And so Room Rater continues, unabated. It has amassed 400,000 followers. How? Well thanks to the egos of the journalists and pundits who it tags in its ratings, and incessantly share the scores they receive. So thirsty for likes and followers, so glad anyone in the world is watching them and giving them semi-positive feedback. So detached from the reality of the masses, who thankfully aren’t aware of this gross exercise, because they spend their time with family, or friends, or outside.
(These problems with the press are discussed at length in my new book, Uncovered, which is out on Tuesday — still time to pre-order and receive it then!)
I mean, just look at this. “My life is complete!” one reporter tweets. “It only took three years, but finally made it,” says another, in response to a 10/10 score about her MSNBC hit:
If it were all just an embarrassing example of the self-absorption of our modern media, who think of themselves as “influencers” and are begging for approval rather than doing their jobs and being annoying pests to those in power, than perhaps it wouldn’t warrant much further inquiry. The media of 2023 is full of self-important narcissists. What’s new?
But that’s only part of the problem with the Room Rater account — and the media’s obsession with it. Because Room Rater is not an interior decorating account, or an objective analyst of background lighting.
It's a political operation run by a Democratic #Resistance grifter, who could accurately be described as a 2016 "election denier."
But before we get to who’s behind the account, it’s worth noting that the account is explicitly political. Have someone viewed as “unacceptable” by your average establishment, narrative-pushing, extremely-online liberal? They get an instant 0/10 on the Room Rater scale, plus some nasty commentary.
Matt Taibbi is a turncoat election denier. Tulsi Gabbard “does psyops for Putin” and is “cultish.” This is the account hundreds of thousands of media members — many of whom position themselves as objective journalists — continue to prop up. In between their little ego tickle and flattery, these tweets are put out, and subsequently ignored by those who clearly don’t mind it.
So who is this crew running Room Rater? It’s Claude Taylor and Jesse Bahrey. Taylor is the most outspoken, often getting the lengthy interviews about the success of his account.
So let’s get to know Claude Taylor. The liberal magazine Mother Jones highlighted him in an article in 2019 detailing various “notable resistance hucksters.” In 2017, as a leading #Resistance tweeter, he fell for a hoax about criminal charges against Trump that he spread to his followers. The former Bill Clinton campaign volunteer was profiled in Washingtonian magazine around that time, and said he’d be happy if 80% of his anti-Trump tweets turned out to be true. (Of course, his track record on the Russiagate nonsense, like much of the media, turned out to be much worse than that.)
While he may not have been good at getting the reporting correct, he was great at making money, apparently. The Room Rater bio on Twitter links to the “Mad Dog PAC” website, which is soliciting donations at the top of the page through ActBlue in order to “win it all in 2024!” You can also buy various Room Rater merch there, which are usually adorned with pineapples. Get a pillow, or an “herbal stash keeper,” or “rolling papers.”
Or, I shit you not, you can buy a “Team Steve Schmidt” jersey, among other apparent big fans of the Twitter feed.
All proceeds go to… electing Democrats, I guess? (Taylor has been adept at raising money for himself in other ways — he raised close to $25,000 while crowdfunding a legal defense in order to counter lawsuits from the “Alt Right.”)
Taylor’s background as a #Resistance grifter and political operative who builds his ideological opinions into his Room Rater account gets mostly ignored these days by the broader press. The New York Times gave him a cushy profile last year, as did The Washington Post, around the time his book (all about "how to Zoom your room,” naturally!) came out.
No, the Room Rater conceit is the perfect cover, and the members of the press are happy to play along. ‘Isn’t this just a fun game we can all play together, rating each others rooms, and thanking each other on Twitter after our cable news hits!’
And look — as I pack my bags for a variety of media appearances this week as “Uncovered” comes out, I can’t help but admit I’ve thought about the background of my Zoom shots. I want it to look professional, and not distract from the points I’m trying to make.
But if Room Rater comes a-rating for one of my hits, I’m comfortable knowing a terrible score is headed my way. Because it’s not really about the backgrounds for this account — it’s about the content of the segment. It’s about being on the right team. It’s about being acceptable to the consensus-pushers in cable news green rooms and on Twitter, who gleefully share their Room Rater scores in a desperate attempt to retain relevance in an industry shifting beneath their feet.