NYT columnist Bret Stephens called ‘bedbug’ by university professor
It started with a single tweet.
“The bedbugs are a metaphor. The bedbugs are Bret Stephens.”
George Washington University associate professor David Karpf told USA TODAY that his tweet had not gotten much attention and he was making a joke about the news that The New York Times newsroom was reportedly dealing with a bedbug infestation.
He made a dig at the conservative columnist but did not expect Stephens to have such a strong reaction, or any reaction at all. He did not even tag Stephens in the original tweet.
Then Karpf received an email from Stephens, who had copied the provost at Karpf’s university. Once Karpf posted a screenshot of the full email to Twitter, the exchange went viral.
“I’m often amazed about the things supposedly decent people are prepared to say about other people — people they’ve never met — on Twitter,” Stephens wrote to Karpf. “I think you’ve set a new standard.”
“I would welcome the opportunity for you to come to my home, meet my wife and kids, talk to us for a few minutes, and then call me a ‘bedbug’ to my face,” Stephens continued.
“This would have been a different thing if he didn’t CC the provost; he wanted to use his social position to get me in trouble for writing a joke for him,” Karpf said in an interview with USA TODAY.
The hashtag #Bretbug started trending, and soon people were pointing out the fact that Stephens has a history of defending free speech. He has written: “Discomfort is not injury. An intellectual provocation is not a physical assault.”
Twitter users got in on the joke, too.
“Every time Bret Stephens writes a column, it varies between why liberals are ruining college campuses, why Democrats can never win an election unless they focus on people like him, or how climate change is not real,” Karpf said.
Stephens has apparently deactivated his Twitter account as of Tuesday. He did address the controversy in an interview with MSNBC. “There’s a bad history of being analogized to insects that goes back to a lot of totalitarian regimes in the past,” he said.
As for Karpf, he is not worried about consequences.
“I have tenure, I’m not scared of him and beyond that I haven’t done a single thing,” Karpf said.
George Washington University Provost Forrest Maltzman invited Stephens to campus to speak in response.