Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach; and those who can’t do either, nitpick.
That immutable truth of the human condition is getting a thorough workout under the jaundiced eye of the Twitter feed known as Room Rater.
Now that the coronavirus pandemic has effectively placed television’s countless talking heads under house arrest, forcing them to Skype or Zoom from the nooks and crannies of their suburban manses or city apartments in order to maintain relevance in the media-political complex, their private tastes, and arguably their inner psyches, have been laid bare, naked and vulnerable to the tender mercies of public judgment.
This up-close-and-personal transaction between viewers and the viewed can be unnervingly intimate—and, as Room Rater reveals, the backdrops are frequently more worthy of attention than the talking points.
Rating the various backdrops on scale of zero (foul and unnatural) to 10 (gorgeous)—with negative ratings possible for especially revolting offenders such as alleged “treasonweasel” Rudy Giuliani (-11/10) —the Room Rater Twitter feed has pronounced on everything from the “bright” and “charming” décor of Hillary Clinton’s Chappaqua, New York, estate to the “beautifully lit” yet “stagey with a tad too much branding” ambience of yellow-spectacled Al Roker’s live shots, to the supposed ugliness of the greenish paint on Ann Coulter’s wall: “Pretty much what you’d expect. Puke and a big tv. 0/10.”
In an email to The Daily Beast, Coulter retorted: “Am I as pretty as Tara Reade? Maybe you’ve heard of her.”
The Today show’s Roker, meanwhile, responded to his 8/10 rating on Twitter: “Thanks…Point taken. But glad you like the glasses.”
Failed gangly presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke—who looks like he’s trapped in a basement closet that is far too low-ceilinged for him and possibly lined with asbestos—seems not to have bothered defending himself after Room Rater slapped him with a 0/10 and the accompanying commentary: “Oh, dear god. Organizing rescue mission. Blink twice if you can hear me.”
Having launched a mere three weeks ago, Room Rater already boasts more than 123,000 followers and, for reasons that will be clear in a moment, has a decidedly Democratic Party, anti-Donald Trump outlook on life.
The emphasis on ideology over pure aesthetics is so obvious that Hillary Clinton herself recently tweeted gratitude for her charitable 9/10 rating (“Thank you! I’ll keep striving for that highest, hardest glass ceiling, the elusive 10/10”), while Barack Obama’s former national security adviser Susan Rice (“Will work on the backlighting”) and California Rep. Katie Porter, among other leading liberals and members of The Resistance, have seen fit to respond publicly to Room Rater’s assessments.
“I’m all about accountability,” Porter replied to Room Rater’s harsh grade of 2/10, which viciously panned her washed-out appearance in front of a faded blue curtain. (“We need oversight hearings. Advise and extend.”) “I’ll own your 2, and strive for 10 next time,” Porter continued. “I yield back the balance of my light.”
The surprisingly influential Twitter feed, which debuted on Easter Sunday and has grown explosively since then, is the joint project two middle-aged divorcees in a long-distance relationship—Democratic operative Claude Taylor, 57, a former Clinton White House staffer who is self-isolating in suburban Washington, D.C., and his girlfriend, 52-year-old Jessie Bahrey, who manages a commercial greenhouse on the opposite side of the continent, on the outskirts of Vancouver, British Columbia.
The two met on Twitter after Bahrey, a self-described political junkie, reached out to Taylor on his personal account, @TrueFactsStated, in which he identifies himself as a “Washington area propagandist” and links to the Mad Dog PAC he runs. Last July, Bahrey visited a cousin in D.C., hooked up with Taylor, and the rest is the premise for a Hollywood romcom titled “Sleepless in Vancouver.”
Taylor’s political action committee, his day job, leases space on anti-Republican billboards nationwide, such as several blaring “Moscow Mitch” in Kentucky—where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is in a tight reelection race—and another shouting “Impeachment Now” on the road to Mar-a-Lago, and sells all manner of “Fuck Trump” paraphernalia such as coffee mugs and marijuana grinders.
During the pandemic, Taylor’s PAC is currently raising money to donate masks, gloves and other physical protection equipment to hospitals in need.
Bahrey, who because she’s in the Pacific time zone assumes control of the feed at night, often focusing on entertainment figures and non-political celebrities, likes to think of herself as “the nice Canadian,” compared to Taylor’s sharply acerbic Twitter persona; she is admittedly less severe and more tolerant in bestowing her evaluations of talking-head décor.
For instance, it was Taylor, not Bahrey, who recently gave this 3/10 rating to Gwyneth Paltrow, seated in a high-backed chair in front of distracting backlight streaming through a French window, with what seems to be a liquor trolley sitting off to one side: “Limited. Bar cart? Bad light. Try an enema.”
Taylor, meanwhile, implements a policy of automatically deducting three points from any author who displays in camera range more than a single copy of any of his or her bylined books.
“This is not personal,” Taylor told The Daily Beast, explaining why he penalized CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett for prominently showing off two copies of Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride. “It’s an automatic penalty.”
Taylor generously lifted the deduction after Garrett dutifully removed the extra copy—and placed the remaining one in a bookshelf farther in the background—in a subsequent TV appearance.
Room Rater has also paid close attention to the appearances of certain camera-ready colleagues at The Daily Beast, giving Paris-based world news editor Christopher Dickey, a frequent expert on MSNBC, a tightfisted 2/10, with the sour admonition: “If your office is this ugly, try the living room. Work with us, people.”
“I took it to heart,” Dickey said, adding that he planned to relocate his television live shots from what seemed to this writer his perfectly outfitted home office to his more Parisian-looking living room. “Does that [Dickey’s office] strike you as terrible?” he protested. “I don’t think so.”
On the other hand, Room Rater had nothing but praise for political editor Sam Stein’s TV staging: “Look who’s stepping up. Depth. Framing. Glad the beard was temporary. 8/10.”
“I’m just out there trying to give 110 percent,” joked Stein, who pointed out, however, that he has never sported a beard.
On Friday morning, after Room Rater mocked the crazily paper-piled office of infectious disease expert Dr. Andre Kalil, who directed a promising study of the antiviral drug remdesivir (“Perfect Mad Scientist look. Don’t change a thing. Ignore your Room Rater rating. 3/10”), Kristol stepped in to defend Kalil’s honor: “My kind of office. No wonder Dr. Kalil’s remdesivir trial may be producing hopeful results.”
“Obviously, it’s a thing now,” Kristol told The Daily Beast. “And it’s a nice change, don’t you think?, from people in official television studios…There’s something sort of amusing about it,” Kristol added, but cautioned that in due course, it will make the subjects of the feed increasingly self-conscious, even as they pretend not to be, and figuring out ways to game the system.
“Like all of these things, they start out being great, and then they end up being ruined because then someone is going to decide to be a slave to it. We’re at a good moment now. There’s something authentic about it. But how long that will last, who knows?”