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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
The bedbugs are a metaphor. The bedbugs are Bret Stephens. https://t.co/k4qo6QzIBW— davekarpf (@davekarpf) August 26, 2019
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.
This afternoon, I tweeted a brief joke about a well-known NYT op-Ed columnist.— davekarpf (@davekarpf) August 27, 2019
It got 9 likes and 0 retweets. I did not @ him. He does not follow me.
He just emailed me, cc’ing my university provost. He is deeply offended that I called him a metaphorical 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.
Alright fine... here is the email: pic.twitter.com/A4E5I6CoB6— davekarpf (@davekarpf) August 27, 2019
“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:
When you threaten someone's job because you don't like that they said something mean about you, and you're the kind of person whose threats carry a punch, you make other people scared.— Angus Johnston (@studentactivism) August 27, 2019
College students are too sensitive.— LOLGOP (@LOLGOP) August 27, 2019
The guy who had to quit Twitter because he was called a bedbug
TBH never heard of @BretStephensNYT until he denied he was a bedbug.— 7sleepersmusic (@7sleepersmusic) August 27, 2019
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 I just cannot get over how mild an insult “bedbug” is. Stephens and his ilk would simply drop dead after being a woman, black, queer, or some combination thereof online. My day started with being called a rancid cunt and it’s just Monday.— roxane gay (@rgay) August 27, 2019
In the last 24 hours, I've had about a dozen messages from strangers calling me a "faggot" or some kind of transphobic language and that's fewer than usual.— Charlotte Clymer 🏳️🌈 (@cmclymer) August 27, 2019
Lots of women, LGBTQ folks, and/or folks of color on here get much worse.
Bret Stephens was unglued when called "bedbug".
This asshole wouldn't last a day as a woman on the internet— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) August 27, 2019
The type of messages and tweets I get on a daily basis (many of which include specific threats of rape and murder) are so extreme that getting called a bedbug would almost be sweet in comparison. NY Times might need fumigation. But their insulation works really well apparently. https://t.co/iS8IQYg2xB— Ana Kasparian (@AnaKasparian) August 27, 2019
It probably is a bummer to be called a bedbug but people have written to me that they hope I get raped. Must be nice to get insulting comments and feel comfortable inviting the person to your home!— Elise Foley (@elisefoley) August 27, 2019
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:
Yup. And now it’s immortalized. https://t.co/PpXvzE5TQQ— Eliza Orlins (@eorlins) August 27, 2019
HE CALLED YOU A BEDBUG, BRET pic.twitter.com/WdxpTNHWBd— penne benne (@pasta_ben) August 27, 2019
Bret Stephens never responded to the dozens of climate scientists who pointed out serious errors in his first NYT column.— Aaron Huertas (@aaronhuertas) August 27, 2019
But make a joke on here without even tagging him and he demands a family meeting then rage quits Twitter.
Real bedbug move if you ask me.
30-50 feral bedbugs— Jessica Shortall (@jessicashortall) August 27, 2019
Dear New Yorkers:— Charlotte Clymer 🏳️🌈 (@cmclymer) August 27, 2019
If you pass Bret Stephens on the street tomorrow and don't say "Hey Bret, what's bugging you?", the world will be very disappointed.
Bretamorphosis— Smooth - Santana ft. Kazuma Kiryu of the Tojo Clan (@dinosaurthe3rd) August 27, 2019
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.”
On MSNBC, Bret Stephens characterizes Dr Dave Karpf referring to him as a metaphorical "bedbug" on Twitter as akin to language used by "totalitarian regimes," adds that he had "no intention whatsoever to get him in any kind of professional trouble" when he tattled to Karpf's boss pic.twitter.com/iNJAvzPnMt— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 27, 2019
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.”
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