President Trump joined the mockery of a columnist from the New York Times who was ridiculed for complaining on Twitter about a professor calling him a ‘bedbug.’ David Karpf of George Washington University published an email on Monday demonstrating how Bret Stephens of the NYT had made a formal complaint to his employer that he was called a ‘bedbug.’
But Stephens, who claims to be a champion of liberty of expression, doubled yesterday, claiming to be called a bedbug, was a reminder of totalitarian regimes. President Trump seized upon the sensational claims last night, tweeting: ‘Bret Stephens is loaded up with them [bedbugs]! Been calling me wrong for years, along with the few remaining Never Trumpers – All Losers!’
Trump shredded Stephens while making reference to another bedbug story now raging – ‘a made up Radical Left Story’ – about an infestation at his Doral resort in Miami. The original tweet Stephens had taken issue with was when the professor commented on a news story that there were bedbugs in the Times’ newsroom. ‘The bedbugs are a metaphor,’ Karpf had written. ‘The bedbugs are Bret Stephens.’
The tweet had initially received a measly nine likes, which Karpf noted, but eventually made its way to Stephens. In response, the columnist took to Karpf’s email and CC’d GWU’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,’ he said in the email that Karpf shared. ‘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.’
Stephens added that the invitation was ‘standing’ and provided a snippet of the professor’s post. Karpf’s tweets quickly went viral overnight, and many users blasted Stephens, prompting him to delete his account on Twitter.
On Tuesday, Stephens appeared on MSNBC to defend his actions and provide context on why being called a ‘bedbug’ impacted him so much. ‘I think Twitter tends to bring out the worst in its users,’ he asserted. ‘I think that kind of rhetoric is dehumanizing and totally unacceptable no matter where it comes from.’
He later continued: ‘Using dehumanizing rhetoric like “bedbugs” or analogizing people to insects is always wrong, we can do better. We should be the people on social media that we are in real life.
‘There is a bad history of being called, being analogized to insects, that goes back to a lot of totalitarian regimes in the past. I have been called worse, I wrote this guy a personal note and now it is out there for the world to see.’
Stephens 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.
‘It is the case at the New York Times and at other institutions that managers should be aware of the way that their people – their professors or their journalist – interact with the rest of the world,’ he said. ‘That’s certainly the case at the New York Times.’
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.’
‘As you know, as an academic, Professor Karpf speaks for himself and does not take direction from me. His opinions are his own. Our commitment to academic freedom an free speech are integral to GW’s mission.’ Stephens quickly became a trending topic on Twitter, along with hashtags #Bretbug and #BedbugBret.
Several users shared grabs of Stephen’s old tweets where he decried PC culture and those who took issue with the ‘right to offend.’ The op-ed columnist even wrote a piece on stifling free speech on college campuses, which many cited as showing Stephen’s as being a hypocrite.
Piers Morgan shared one of Stephens old tweets and said: ‘Unless someone calls him a bedbug…’ ‘Goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the Bret Stephens bite,’ joked author Jessica Valenti.
She added: ‘To be fair I *do* want to burn my sheets and move anytime Bret Stephens writes a column.’ Merriam-Webster even got in on the fun and shared the ‘Streisand effect’ phenomenon which ‘occurs when the attempt to cover something up only brings it more attention or notoriety.’
Many users took issue with how ‘thin-skinned’ Stephens was, providing examples of the derogatory and offensive remarks that the actually get called.