New York Times op-ed columnist Bret Stephens, who last month wrote a column comparing mean tweets directed at him to the French Reign of Terror, emailed George Washington University associate professor Dave Karpf and the university’s provost on Monday to complain about the professor’s tweet calling Stephens a bedbug.
Besides pointing out how offended he was at the tweet, the Times writer also invited Karpf to come to his house, meet his wife and kids, and make the comment directly to his face.
Following reports that the New York Times office had been infested by bedbugs, Karpf decided to send a snarky tweet taking aim at Stephens, who is a frequent target for criticism on Twitter.
“The bedbugs are a metaphor,” Karpf, who is also an author, wrote. “The bedbugs are Bret Stephens.”
Hours later, Karpf noted that while the tweet had only received limited engagement at the time and he hadn’t tagged Stephens in the post, the conservative columnist had sent Karpf an email to point out how “deeply offended” he was over being called a “metaphorical bedbug.”
The GWU associate professor eventually shared the email that Stephens sent him and the university provost.
“Someone just pointed out a tweet you wrote about me, calling me a ‘bedbug,’” Stephens wrote. “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.”
“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,” he added. “That would take some genuine courage and intellectual integrity on your part. I promise to be courteous no matter what you have to say.”
Stephens concluded the email by letting Karpf know this was a “standing invitation” and that the author was “more than welcome to bring your significant other.”
This isn’t the first time that Stephens’ emails have gone viral. Back in March, Splinter’s Samer Kalaf published a back-and-forth exchange between him and Stephens that featured the Times scribe telling Kalaf “you performed the digital equivalent of sticking your penis out of your trousers” by sending “rude emails” to Stephens.
Stephens responded to his latest brush with viral infamy by shutting down his Twitter account. Before the account was deactivated, Mediaite reported that Stephens fired one last salvo:
“Twitter is a sewer. It brings out the worst in humanity. I sincerely apologize for any part I’ve played in making it worse, and to anyone I’ve ever hurt. Thanks to all of my followers, but I’m deactivating this account.”
Shortly after deactivating his Twitter account, Stephens appeared on MSNBC and discussed his blowup at Karpf over the Twitter joke. Stephens said that “Twitter brings out the worst in its users” before grousing that being called a bedbug is “dehumanizing and totally unacceptable no matter where it comes from.”
The Times columnist went on to defend his email to Karpf and the provost, insisting that it was “very civil” and that he “had no intention whatsoever to get him in any kind of professional trouble.” After MSNBC host Chris Jansing wondered aloud if this was really the worst thing Stephens had been called on social media, he compared the insult to totalitarian action.
“All I would say is that using dehumanizing rhetoric like bedbugs or, you know, analogizing people to insects, is always wrong,” Stephens declared. “There’s a bad history of being analogized to insects that goes back to a lot of totalitarian regimes in the past. I’ve been called worse. I wrote this guy a personal note. Now it’s out there for everyone to see.”