Addressing the dustup on Tuesday, the conservative and, at times, contrarian writer said he never meant to cause trouble ― he just wanted the man’s employer to know about the insult.
“People are upset about this. I want to be clear ― I had no intention whatsoever to get him in any kind of professional trouble,” Stephens said on MSNBC. “But it is the case at The New York Times and other institutions that people should be aware, managers should be aware of the way in which their people, their professor or journalists, interact with the rest of the world.”
On Monday, David Karpf, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, responded to news of a bedbug infestation at the Times’ New York City offices by trolling the writer in a tweet.
“The bedbugs are a metaphor,” he said. “The bedbugs are Bret Stephens.”
With that, Stephens emailed Karpf and copied his provost on the message, calling out the remark, which the professor said initially had only nine likes and zero retweets.
“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.”
Sharing the update on Twitter, Karpf told his followers Stephens was “deeply offended that I called him a metaphorical bedbug.”
On Tuesday afternoon, GWU shared on Twitter the provost’s message to Stephens, noting that Karpf “speaks for himself and does not take direction from me.”
“I see on Twitter that you invited him to your home,” he added. “I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to come to our campus and speak about civil discourse in the digital age.”
Though Stephens’ reaction may have stunned Karpf, along with other Twitter users who mocked the writer for the drastic measure, chalking it up to a sign of white male privilege in a world where journalists find themselves on the receiving end of far worse and even menacing language, Stephens suggested it was justified during his MSNBC appearance.
“There’s a bad history of being analogized to insects that goes back to a lot of totalitarian regimes in the past,” he said.
However, by now, Stephens is certainly no stranger to criticism. His 2017 entry into the Times’ was met with backlash after his first column questioned whether climate change was real, prompting scientists to cancel their subscriptions to the paper. While a deputy editorial page editor at The Wall Street Journal, he called anti-Semitism “the disease of the Arab mind,” a remark he later defended. He has also denied that rape on college campuses ― which happens to about one in five undergraduate women ― is a true epidemic, instead referring to it as an “imaginary enemy.”
Despite Stephens’ apparent knack for stirring controversy, he spoke out in July against the criticism his work has attracted, claiming that he was living in “Robespierre’s America,” an evident suggestion that outcry from his naysayers is tantamount to the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror.