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NYT columnist’s dramatic exit from Twitter couldn’t have gone worse

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Everyone seems to be talking about bedbugs.

And New York Times columnist Bret Stephens appears to be at the center of it all thanks to his social media spat with a George Washington University professor.

(Video: NBC News)

 

Stephens claimed he has “been called worse” during an MSNBC appearance that just seemed to make things more complicated when he deactivated his Twitter account and then defended an email he sent to Dave Karpf, an associate professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs.

Karpf had tweeted a joke about Stephens on Monday after a report of bedbugs infesting The New York Times.

The professor told DCist that he made the comparison because “every time Bret Stephens writes a column, my Twitter feed is full of people complaining about Bret Stephens, complaining about how annoying he is, how you can never get rid of Bret Stephens.”

Stephens took offense to the tweet and fired off an email scolding Karpf – and copying his boss at George Washington University.

The professor went one step further and shared the email for all to see.

“Someone just pointed out a tweet you wrote about me, calling me a ‘bedbug.’ 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,” 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. I promise to be courteous no matter what you have to say,” his letter went on to say.

“Maybe it will make you feel better about yourself,” Stephens added. “Please consider this a standing invitation. You are more than welcome to bring your significant other.”

The GWU provost reportedly replied to Stephens’ email, citing academic freedom and free speech while making it clear the school backed Karpf completely, the professor told DCist.

The email set off a wave of backlash at Stephens for trying to get Karpf fired by copying his boss. Stephens, who joined the Times in 2017, handled it like a pro – blasting Twitter for being a “sewer” and deactivating his account.

He was immediately called out for his cowardice.

 

The saga continued, however, as Stephens made an appearance on MSNBC claiming he never meant to get Karpf in trouble, but went on to complain that being called a “bedbug” is “dehumanizing and totally unacceptable.”

“I think Twitter brings out the worst in its users,” he told MSNBC, claiming his “personal” note to Karpf was “very civil,” though he admitted he sent a copy to Karpf’s provost.

“I had no intention whatsoever to get him in any kind of professional trouble,” he explained, saying ironically that organizations should be aware of the way their employees “interact with the rest of the world.”

Karpf thought the point of Stephens’ email was pretty obvious.

“If I was pre-tenure I would be terrified right now, even though I don’t think I did anything wrong,” he told DCist. “That is pretty obviously the whole point of him sending that email.”

“All I would say is that using dehumanizing rhetoric like bedbugs or, you know, analogizing people to insects, is always wrong,” Stephens continued on MSNBC.

“There’s a bad history of being analogized to insects that goes back to a lot of totalitarian regimes in the past,” he added. ” I’ve been called worse. I wrote this guy a personal note. Now it’s out there for everyone to see.”

And they certainly did, sending the topic trending on Twitter and earning no extra bonus points for Stephens who apparently just dug himself deeper.

Frieda Powers

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