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New York Times’ Bret Stephens deactivates Twitter after ‘bed bug’ email

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When David Karpf, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, saw Tuesday’s news that The New York Times newsroom had been infested with bed bugs, he thought he’d have some fun.

So Karpf tweeted that The Times opinion writer, Bret Stephens, was one of the bed bugs in question.

“The bedbugs are a metaphor,” he wrote. “The bedbugs are Bret Stephens.”

Though Karpf didn’t tag Stephens in the tweet, which had just a handful of likes and zero retweets, The Times columnist blasted Karpf in an email he wrote to both the professor 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. I think you’ve set a new standard,” Stephens wrote in the email, which Karpf later tweeted out. “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.”

He went on, “I promise to be courteous no matter what you have to say. Maybe it will make you feel better about yourself.”

The exchange went viral and sparked immediate condemnation of Stephens.

“What must it be like to think being called a ‘bedbug’ in a tweet merits an email to that author’s boss?” wrote Connie Schultz, a well-known newspaper columnist and wife of Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio. “If we women who are columnists shared some of our worst reader responses, we’d risk being banned from Twitter for making credible threats of violence.”

“He not only thinks I should be ashamed of what I wrote, he thinks that I should also get in trouble for it,” Karpf told the Washington Post on Tuesday. “That’s an abuse of his power.”

Karpf said he would’ve been “happy to have a dialogue” with Stephens if the columnist had reached out to him individually, but felt that cc-ing GW’s provost on the email was “clearly an attempt to threaten me with punishment.”

Karpf stood by his joke and explained that he’s critical of Stephens’ writing and research, particularly on the issue of climate change.

“He tends to write pretty lightweight, poorly researched columns about things that I know something about,” Karpf told the Post. “So I’ve always seen him as this person that everyone complains about but we just can’t get rid of. He’s a bedbug.”

Stephens deactivated his Twitter account early Tuesday.

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But Stephens defended his response on cable news on Tuesday, arguing on MSNBC, “Analogizing people to insects is always wrong … Being analogized to insects goes back to a lot of totalitarian regimes in the past.”

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