Remember when, on Monday, August 26, a then-little known university professor named Dave Karpf tweeted a joke that New York Times columnist Bret Stephens was a bedbug? Do you recall how it became the latest instance of Stephens throwing a wildly out-of-proportion fit and completely owning himself? And did you think to yourself that one week later, we would still be talking about Stephens, Karpf, and bedbugs? Much like an actual bedbug itself, the story refuses to die.
Here’s the initial tweet that kicked all of this off:
That tweet initially went unnoticed by almost everyone—except for Stephens, who seemingly has a Tweetdeck column solely devoted to mentions of his name and who was so incensed to be compared to a bedbug that he shot off an email to Karpf, a professor at George Washington University, and his university provost. In it, he complained about being compared to a bedbug and invited Karpf to go to his house and call him a bedbug to his face. “That would take some genuine courage and intellectual integrity on your part,” Stephens huffed. (Karpf’s only mistake, in my opinion, is not taking Stephens up on this incredible once-in-a-lifetime offer.)
After Karpf published that email on his Twitter account, Stephens quickly took to cable news to defend himself, astonishingly comparing a joke tweet by a relative unknown to the “dehumanizing rhetoric” of “totalitarian regimes.” Karpf (who, for what it’s worth, is Jewish himself) has said that his joke was meant only to note that like Stephens, “bedbugs are a pain in the ass and hard to get rid of and everybody complains a lot about them,” which is 100 percent accurate and a truth that should not have to be explained.
Karpf, in the interviews he has given and op-eds he has written since Stephens attempted to take him down, has also made the extremely reasonable point that the Times columnist, who is notorious for bemoaning what he sees as the internet mob’s attack on “free speech,” is doing the exact same thing he so often decries:
It means 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. It was an exercise in wielding power—using the imprimatur of The New York Times to ward off speech that he finds distasteful.
Stephens, who clearly needs to take a lesson in learning when he’s the idiot in the situation, which is to say, all of the time, then decided to kick up the fight a notch last Friday, when he wrote what essentially amounted to a subtweet masquerading as an op-ed in which he again bemoaned Twitter and the “rhetoric of dehumanization,” making sure to include, of course, a reference to bedbugs pulled from a book on the Jewish community in Poland during World War II: “Watching Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto burn that year, a Polish anti-Semite was overheard saying: “The bedbugs are on fire. The Germans are doing a great job.”
Stephens continued: “The unpopular political figures of our day are the people who seem to convey less than 100 percent true belief: the moderate conservative, the skeptical liberal, the centrist wobbler.” Hmm, I wonder whom he’s referring to here?
Which brings us to Tuesday, when Karpf published yet another piece on Stephens, this time responding to Stephens’s astonishingly bad op-ed that essentially compared Karpf to Hitler.
“As a professor of strategic political communication, I could have told him that the only way for him to stop losing here is to stop playing,” Karpf wrote.
Someone, please make this stop!