The professor who called Bret Stephens a ‘bedbug’ is condemning the New York Times columnist, calling his decision to email his boss over the joking tweet an ‘abuse of his social station’ and an ‘exercise in wielding power’.
Writing a column in Esquire, David Karpf, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, elaborated on the conflict between him and Stephens that played out on Twitter Monday.
After calling Stephens a ‘bedbug’ in a tweet, Stephens sent him an email clearly taking offense to the name calling – and CC’d Karpf’s boss on the email – which Karpf says ‘clarifies the intent of the message.’
‘He was trying to send a message that he stands above me in the status hierarchy, and that people like me are not supposed to write mean jokes about people like him online,’ Karpf writes.
‘It was an exercise in wielding power – using the imprimatur of The New York Times to ward off speech that he finds distasteful.’
Professor David Karpf is condemning New York Times columnist Bret Stephens for his decision to CC his boss over a tweet where Karpf called him a ‘bedbug’
‘The bedbugs are a metaphor,’ Karpf said in his initial tweet . ‘The bedbugs are Bret Stephens’
‘The bedbugs are a metaphor,’ Karpf’s initial tweet read. ‘The bedbugs are Bret Stephens.’
He was responding to another tweet that read: ‘Breaking – There are bedbug in the NYT newsroom.’
Karpf’s tweet had initially received just nine likes and no retweets, which he notes that Stephens ‘would have had to look hard to find it on Twitter, and would have had to work even harder to take offense to such an innocuous joke.’
In response, the columnist emailed Karpf and CC’d George Washington University’s provost.
‘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 said in the email. ‘I think you’ve set a new standard.’
He continued: ‘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. I promise to be courteous no matter what you have to say. Maybe it will make you feel better about yourself.’
Karpf then posted the email on Twitter – which quickly went viral and became trending hashtags #Bretbug and #BedbugBret – and by Tuesday Stephens had landed on MSNBC to defend himself and Karpf published a column in Esquire elaborating.
‘Stephens, it seems, was offended by my lack of decorum online. He felt I had broken some unwritten social contract – that I was being uncivil by delivering an insult online that I would not deliver to his face,’ he writes.
‘Bret Stephens seems to think that his social status should render him from criticism from people like me,’ he continues. ‘I think that the rewards of his social status come with an understanding that lesser-known people will say mean things about him online.’
In response, the columnist emailed Karpf and CC’d GWU’s provost. ‘He was trying to send a message that he stands above me in the status hierarchy,’ Karpf wrote
On Tuesday, Stephens appeared on MSNBC to defend his actions and equated the situation on Twitter to a totalitarian regime
Karpf says the irony of the situation is that Stephen regularly writes columns decrying the culture of ”safe spaces” on college campuses and points to a column he once read titled Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort.
‘Discomfort for thee, but not for me, it would seem…,’ Karpf says.
He goes on to say he has ‘little to fear from Bret Stephens.’
‘Stephens reached out to me in the mistaken belief that I would feel ashamed. He reached out believing my university would chastise me for provoking the ire of a writer at The New York Times. That’s an abuse of his social station.’
‘My life will go on and so will his. He will have a new nickname that he doesn’t care for; I will have some new Twitter followers who will soon learn that I am less funny than they had hoped.’
Many users blasted Stephens, prompting him to delete his account on Twitter
Forrest Maltzman, GWU’s provost, released a statement on Twitter and invited the columnist to come give a chat on ‘civil discourse in the digital age’
Stephens’ appearance on MSNBC was another thing that ‘surprised’ Karpf.
‘There is a bad history of being called, being analogized to insects, that goes back to a lot of totalitarian regimes in the past,’ Stephens said on air Tuesday. ‘I have been called worse, I wrote this guy a personal note and now it is out there for the world to see.’
Karpf scoffed at the notion calling the comparison of a Twitter account to a totalitarian regime a ‘remarkably long walk’.
Stephens also claimed that he had no intention of getting Karpf in ‘professional trouble,’ adding that it was common to notify someone’s boss of how they are behaving online.
But Forrest Maltzman, George Washington University’s provost, released a statement on Twitter inviting the columnist to come give a chat on ‘civil discourse in the digital age.’
‘As you know, as an academic, Professor Karpf speaks for himself and does not take direction from me,’ Maltzman wrote. ‘His opinions are his own. Our commitment to academic freedom an free speech are integral to GW’s mission.’