Bedbugs are, according to the University of Kentucky, ‘small, brownish, flattened insects that feed solely on the blood of animals.’ The common bedbug has been known to bite ‘warm-blooded animals, including dogs, cats, birds and rodents’. Now we can add ‘professors who are mean to the bedbug on Twitter’ to that list.
An internal memo was circulated around the New York Times yesterday regarding a bed bug infestation. Upon the news breaking, an associate professor at George Washington University called Dave Karpf tweeted the following joke about NYT columnist Bret Stephens:
The bedbugs are a metaphor. The bedbugs are Bret Stephens. https://t.co/k4qo6QzIBW
— davekarpf (@davekarpf) August 26, 2019
Innocuous enough, right? WRONG.
A few hours later, Karpf posted ‘This afternoon, I tweeted a brief joke about a well-known NYT op-Ed columnist. 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.’
Karpf then posted the email below:
‘Dear Dr Karpf,
‘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.
‘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.
‘Please consider this a standing invitation. You are more than welcome to bring your significant other.
Stephens regularly addresses the fragility of campus activists and importance of free speech at universities in his Times columns. Presumably this is why his thin-skinned attempt to report a professor to his superiors for something he said online has been met with such a gleeful response:
911 OPERATOR: what’s your emergency?
911 OPERATOR: Bret I swear to Christ this better not be about twitter…
BRET STEPHENS: *hangs up the phone*
— Michael Tannenbaum (@iamTannenbaum) August 27, 2019
Bret Stephens: The biggest threat facing our society today is the stifling of free speech on college campuses.
Also Bret Stephens: I’m going to try and get a college professor fired for a joke he tweeted that didn’t get a single retweet.
— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) August 27, 2019
same rule for me: if you’ve ever mocked me online, please go have dinner at Bret Stephens’s house
— Owen Ellickson (@onlxn) August 27, 2019
After deactivating his Twitter, Stephens went on MSNBC this morning to defend his email, saying he had ‘no intention’ of getting Dr Karpf in ‘any kind of professional trouble’ by cc’ing his provost, but had done so because ‘managers should be aware of the way in which their people, their professors or journalists, interact with the rest of the world.’ Way to burrow in deeper, Bret!
“There’s a bad history of being analogized to insects that go back to a lot of totalitarian regimes” Bret Stephens says w/ a straight face at the end of this clip when asked about bedbug-gate
— Alex Thompson (@AlxThomp) August 27, 2019
Sensitive hearts were aflutter this weekend after a report in The New York Times about ‘a loose network of conservative operatives’ who were plotting an ‘aggressive operation to discredit news organizations deemed hostile to President Trump’ by ‘publicizing damaging information about journalists.’ They needn’t have worried: clearly Times staff are more than capable of damaging their own reputations without an assist from the right.
It does occur to Cockburn that quitting Twitter might not be the solution to Stephens’s problem: giving his tendency for massively overreacting to the smallest slight, it seems like the perfect website for him. Perhaps he’d have a quieter time if he deactivated his New York Times column instead?