Bedbug memes invade Twitter after Bret Stephens gets offended over a tweet

A New York Times columnist, upset about a university professor’s tweet calling him a “bedbug,” complained to the professor’s boss in an email—only to have the tweet blow up. 

Dave Karpf, an associate professor at George Washington University, shared a tweet on Monday about bedbugs in the newsroom, and he joked that Times columnist Bret Stephens, a known skeptic of climate change, represented the bedbugs. 

“The Bedbugs are a metaphor,” he wrote. “The bedbugs are Bret Stephens.”

Bret Stephens bedbugs memes

According to follow-up tweets, Karpf’s original tweet had only a few likes and zero retweets. But now it’s gone viral thanks to the utter pettiness of the man whom he called a bedbug. 

His tweet went viral even before he even named Stephens in it. “He just emailed me, cc’ing my university provost. He is deeply offended that I called him a metaphorical bedbug,” he wrote. 

And finally, he shared a screenshot of the email where Stephens, who wrote a column last year titled “Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort,” asked invited him over for dinner with his wife and kids so he could prove his civility. 

“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. “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,” he continued in his very composed tantrum. “Maybe it will make you feel better about yourself.” 

If the email itself wasn’t enough, Stephens further included the George Washington University provost in the email. 

Twitter exploded with responses to Stephens:

Many people took the opportunity to remind Stephens (and the world) the level of threats they receive on the platform when they’re not cis straight white men: 

And of course, there were memes and a brief edit on his Wikipedia bio—identifying Stephens as a bedbug—because of the internet. His bio has since been edited back:

Stephens attempted to defend himself Tuesday morning on MSNBC Live.

“I wanna be clear I had no intention whatsoever to get him in any kind of professional trouble,” he said in the interview, adding that it’s protocol everywhere—including at the Times—that managers know how “their people…interact with the rest of the world.”

When the host asks him if this is the worst thing he’s ever been called, he responded, “There’s a bad history of being…analogized to insects that goes back to a lot totalitarian regimes in the past.”

Stephens has since deactivated his Twitter, but not without an equally petty goodbye note. According to Mediaite, he wrote, “Time to do what I long ago promised to do. Twitter is a sewer. It brings out the worst in humanity.” He then apologized for “any part I’ve played in making it worse.” 

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Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque is a New York-based journalist reporting on immigration, sexual violence, and mental health, and will sometimes write about memes and dinosaurs too. Her work also appears in Reuters, NPR, and NBC among other publications. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School, and her work has been nominated for SAJA awards. Follow: @Samideque