Conservative New York Times columnist Bret Stephens seems to enjoy his self-appointed role of a level-headed reasonablist in a knee-jerk, hysterical world gone mad. It’s this air of separation from the braying hordes (of New York Times readers and libs writ large) that makes his totally over-the-top response to a jokey tweet from a George Washington University professor so delicious. The tweet that managed its way into Stephens’ bonnet is from Dave Karpf, an associate professor of media and public affairs at GW, who offhandedly referred to Stephens as a “bedbug” in a tweet Monday evening. The New York Times columnist responded by losing his mind—emailing the professor, CCing his boss, and telling him to “come to my home” and “call me a ‘bedbug’ to my face.” Well then.
Karpf’s tweet, referencing a recent bedbug invasion at the Times building, seemed innocuous enough.
Karpf sent it out around 5 p.m. Monday evening and said it had garnered all of nine likes and zero retweets, when Stephens’ response landed with a thud in his inbox four hours later. “I’m often amazed about the things supposedly decent people are prepared to say about other people—people they’ve never met—on Twitter. I think you’ve set a new standard,” Stephens wrote. “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. That would take some genuine courage and intellectual integrity on your part.”
Karpf published the email on Twitter, pointing out how far Stephens—who has one of the highest profile platforms in the Times opinion pages to preach or throw punches from—had to go to even find the tweet, since it got essentially no traction. Karpf did not @ Stephens’ account and the columnist doesn’t follow Karpf. In his email, Stephens says someone alerted him to the tweet, which sounds an awful lot like code for: I just Googled myself.
Karpf explained his bedbug reasoning behind the tweet to the Washington Post. “He tends to write pretty lightweight, poorly researched columns about things that I know something about,” Karpf said. “So I’ve always seen him as this person that everyone complains about but we just can’t get rid of. He’s a bedbug.” But beyond Stephens’ thin skin, it was his attempt to notify Karpf’s boss that Karpf said irked him most. “He not only thinks I should be ashamed of what I wrote, he thinks that I should also get in trouble for it,” Karpf told the Post. “That’s an abuse of his power.” Whatever it is, it’s certainly not punching up.
In any case, Twitter won’t have Bret Stephens to kick around anymore.
Update, Aug. 27, 2019, at 10 a.m.: This post was updated with video from Bret Stephens’ appearance on MSNBC and a tweet for Stephens announcing his departure from Twitter.