Campus Free Speech

Bret Stephens Is Not a Bedbug. He's a Delicate Snowflake.

The New York Times columnist emailed a professor to complain about a mean tweet—and cc'ed the provost.


New York Times columnist Bret Stephens quit social media on Tuesday after being widely mocked for sending an email to a George Washington University professor who called him a bedbug in a tweet.

The tweet in question was a response to news that The New York Times' newsroom had suffered an infestation of bedbugs. "The bedbugs are a metaphor," George Washington University Associate Professor David Karpf tweeted. "The bedbugs are Bret Stephens."

The tweet did not achieve viral status right away. According to Karpf, it initially received nine likes and zero retweets. And he did not tag Stephens in it. Nevertheless, Karpf soon received a complaining email from Stephens in which the columnist berated the professor for setting a new low for online discourse. In an interview with MSNBC, Stephens later claimed that the bedbug tweet was an example of "dehumanizing" rhetoric that called to mind various totalitarian regimes likening their enemies to insects.

Stephens' complaining email was not just addressed to Karpf. He also copied the offices of George Washington University Provost Forrest Maltzman. In other words, Stephens complained to Karpf's boss. This is stunning hypocrisy from Stephens. In a May 17 Times op-ed, Stephens—who regularly inveighs against political correctness run amok on college campuses and elsewhere—castigated "all those who recklessly participate in the search-and-destroy missions of the call-out culture." Stephens specifically criticized students at Harvard, Middlebury, and Yale for "alleging an invisible harm in order to inflict an actual one."

"In place of an eye for an eye, we have professional destruction for emotional upset," wrote Stephens. "Careers and reputations built over decades come to ruin, or nearly so, on account of a personal mistake or a disfavored opinion."

Yet Stephens is now engaged in exactly the same kind of attempted canceling of Karpf.

To be sure, Stephens maintains that he had no desire to get Karpf in any trouble. But, as Stephens well knows, inviting university administrators to take a hard look at students and professors who said or did something controversial is a dangerous game. Administrators routinely engage in censorship as part of their efforts to placate squeaky wheels.

I've often enjoyed Stephens' work, and I agree with him that many young people are all-too-eager to destroy people for venial sins. (In fact, I wrote an entire book on this subject!) But informing the provost was a lapse in judgment.

Bret Stephens is not a bedbug. But he might be a delicate snowflake.

Provost Maltzman released the following statement Tuesday afternoon affirming Karpf's right to academic freedom.

NEXT: A Man Spent 82 Days in Jail on Meth Charges. The Meth Was Actually Honey.

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    1. solid article. I mean it’s not hard, I think it more or less just exposes who these people have always been.

      1. Twitter is the greatest tool for journalism since the printing press. it has created a level of transparency that no one ever predicted.

        1. …unless you write something the liberal fascist pigs at Twitter don’t like.
          Then you forget about freedom of the press and “transparency.”

          1. I must protest against the absurd premises of this article (and of several comments posted here) that there is such a thing as “academic freedom,” and that “figurative speech” is some kind of an excuse for the inexcusable. Certain forms of conduct may still (unfortunately) be tolerated, but clearly any member of the academic community who describes a respectable man as a “bedbug” should immediately be removed from his position. In fact, the only thing that even comes close to such an insult is calling someone a plagiarist, and we know that incidents involving such allegations are taken very seriously by law enforcement agencies, especially in our nation’s cultural capital. See the documentation of America’s leading criminal “satire” case at:


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    2. I see on it people I once admired behave in a way that erases nearly all respect.

      We should be grateful for Twitter for just this. The way many famous academics, intellectuals, and politicians make fools of themselves is priceless; this exposes the intelligentsia of this country for who they really are and who they really have always been.

  1. what a fucking odious douche. It’s amazing that all these people who arise as “conservative” counter alternatives to trump are somehow even more thinned skinned and annoying than he is. It’s not fucking hard people.

    1. Bret Stephens is only “conservative” by NY Times standards– i.e. he’s not a raging hardcore leftist.

      1. +100!

      2. –200. Stephens is conservative by any standard, unless that standard includes wanting to go down on Trump.

  2. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.

  3. Will someone please change Mr. Stephen’s diapers so he will quit crying?
    Or, at bare minimum, give him his bottle and burp him?
    He’s crying again, and its starting to get annoying.

    1. To paraphrase Nancy Mitford: I love journalist babies, for when they cry, someone comes and takes them away.

  4. Bret…..Bubbe, leave it alone. If you as a journalist are complaining about your ‘coverage’…. 🙂

  5. Also why does everything always devolve into dehumanizing or racism and not just stop at he/she called me a name because he/she dislikes me for me?

    1. It’s not like no one else in history has noticed that name-calling is one way to other people. I imagine Trog probably called Darf a dinosaur brain in a mammal body a few times.

  6. Soave is being way too deferential to Stephens here: “To be sure, Stephens maintains that he had no desire to get Karpf in any trouble.”
    For what possible reason would he cc the provost, if not to draw administrative scrutiny to Karpf? That’s like calling 911 and then claiming, “I had no intention of ever getting the cops involved.”

    1. He was obviously submitting a writing sample to wrangle an invitation to speak at the university – and it worked, too!

  7. …Stephens—who regularly inveighs against political correctness run amok on college campuses and elsewhere—castigated “all those who recklessly participate in the search-and-destroy missions of the call-out culture.”

    A man can change his mind. When the Nazi-like dehumanization is turned on you, you tend to see things in a different light. I’m just glad he’s okay.

    1. When they called my neighbor a bedbug, I said nothing. …

      1. +1. made me laugh

  8. One “to be sure” and one book plug. Classic Robby

    1. Surely you don’t think this web site is for your education and enlightenment?

  9. If Stephens had a sense of humor, he would have sent Krapf a can of Raid.

    And Robby: get a haircut.

    1. Which one? Be more specific. He’s got lots of them.

  10. I’ve seen Bret Stephens in some YouTube chick fight videos.

  11. Stephens is, of course, correct to denounce dehumanizing rhetoric, which nobody should use about a human being *at any stage of development.*

    Hopefully Stephens shares this insight with the rest of the humans at his paper.

    1. I assure you, the writers at the NYT would never refer to themselves as “humans”, on the same level as you or I.

      1. Alas Unicorn, I rather suspect the NYT would call the people here Les Deplorables. 🙂

    2. So would dehumanizing rhetoric include referring to an unborn human baby as a fetus?

  12. Stephens decries being called a bedbug to the author’s provost, thus proving that he is, in fact, a bedbug.

  13. What a terrible metaphor. There are numerous differences between journalists and bedbugs. For instance, Bedbugs don’t consider it their constitutional right to plague you. Also, they’re smaller.

    1. And they’re consistent.

    2. And you’re allowed to step on bedbugs.

  14. C’mon Stephens, the proper reply is, “I know you are, but what am I,” or to make some comment about the other guy’s mom or sister. Didn’t you learn anything in school?

    1. Brett Stephens certainly didn’t learn about the Streisand effect. Makes one wonder if NYT will take the opportunity to be rid of one of their token conservatives. They sure won’t get rid of their Jew baiting editor.

    2. Y’know, if he’d tweeted the old standby, “Aww, eat sh*t, motherfuck*r”, the whole thing would have gone completely differently.

  15. Increasingly, if you do anything that any evil dictator did in the past, even if it isn’t the something that made them evil, these assholes are using it to compare you to that dictator.

    Eventually someone’s gonna compare someone to an evil dictator because they sip their drink the same way.

    1. T. S. Eliot pointed this out shortly after WWII. Things quickly went from “Hitler was evil because he did these things” to “these things are evil because Hitler did them.” The mustache, for example.

      1. You know who else owned a dog?

        1. Michael Vick?

    2. Comparing someone to an evil dictator is something an evil dictator would do.

  16. dude. Robby’s calling you a pussy.

  17. That tweet really bugged Stephens, didn’t it?

    1. It got under his skin.

      1. Good thing he knows how to bite back.

        1. I’m itching to know how this will unfold.

          1. He should apologize and start over from scratch.

  18. “Being analogized to insects goes back to a lot of totalitarian regimes in the past.”

    This would be news to Franz Kafka.

    1. Are termites insects?

  19. “Karpf soon received a complaining email from Stephens in which the columnist berated the professor for setting a new low for online discourse.”

    His job not withstanding, Stephens must not spend much time on line if he thinks that is a low. Not even close. Damn near civil.

  20. I just don’t understand why people don’t understand an email like that is bound to backfire. More than a decade of social media and people keep making the same dumb mistakes.

  21. “from Stephens in which the columnist berated the professor for setting a new low for online discourse. In an interview with MSNBC, Stephens later claimed that the bedbug tweet was an example of “dehumanizing” rhetoric that called to mind various totalitarian regimes likening their enemies to insects.”

    /face palm.

    You’re a cock-a-roach Stephens. Better? How’s that for ‘discourse’?

    Gee, what about ‘deplorables’ and the constant scolding of how racist whypippo are?

    Speaking of insufferable pricks, wasn’t there a writer at the other tiresome New York publication – The New Yorker – who went after Renoir and his nude paintings?

    I read parts of the article and could scare believe what I was reading.

    Someone has issues and it ain’t Renoir.

  22. “As you know, as an academic, Professor Karpf…”

    The “As you know,” adds nothing and makes the sentence unnecessarily awkward. One would expect better from a university provost.

  23. “To be sure,”

    Robbie, hint: forever banish those words from your vocabulary and certainly arrange a filter such that they NEVER end up in anything you write.






  26. Great response from GW Provost, except I would have never invited this bedbug to speak at my campus, especially about civil discourse. I wonder if it was a hollow tongue-in-cheek offer to make bedbug feel small.
    Glad to see some universities standing up for free speech and not cowing to the bullying of the Leftist newspeak thought police.

  27. I’m with Stephens here. Dehumanization of political opponents is a real danger. It leads to things like the 2017 shooting of Republican Congressmen. So it should be out-of-bounds. As a GW Prof — and a professor of media — Korpf helps set the bounds of acceptable debate. And a Provost should care if dehumanization of political opponents is normalized on his campus. Also, Korpf’s profile prominently lists his position at GW, so what he says reflects on GW. The Cc: to the provost was plausible means to have Korpf be given a reminder of these things, not to have him fired.

    Stephens was standing up for the unacceptability of dehumanizing personal attacks. This has nothing to do with cancelling people for expressing “unacceptable” _political opinions_.

    1. Stephens is Jewish, Karpf knows he’s Jewish, and Karpf knows the history of comparing Jews to parasites. This was sickening, but not quite as sickening as watching all the Reason commenters side with the anti-Semite.

      1. Fuck off back to Jewsrael, StandFlaccid.
        Fuckn’ Jewflake.

  28. >calling someone a snowflake in 2019

    Do we think the editor was wearing a Tommy Bahama shirt when s/he wrote that title?

  29. I never thought I’d see so many Reason commenters cheer so gleefully after a Jew is referred to as an insect.

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