George Washington University associate professor David Karpf hopefully enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame. Karpf’s tweet on Tuesday likening New York Times columnist Bret Stephens to a “bedbug” garnered the prof national media attention and ultimately drove Stephens off the social media site. Donald Trump piled on, demonstrating once again the president’s pettiness knows no bounds.
Twitter has never been for the faint of heart, with its vulgar discourse, its mean spiritedness, and its mob attacks. It is Trump’s communications tool of choice, which contributes mightily to the site’s coarse community engagement. If it were not for Trump and almost every reporter urging their readers to “Follow me on Twitter,” the social media site might already be out of business.
Karpf, who teaches media and public affairs, this week offered up a lesson on why Twitter is no place for someone with class.
Stephens is commonly identified in the liberal media as a “conservative” columnist, the dog whistle reporters use to signal to their readers that he doesn’t sing from the PC prayer book. Stephens was previously deputy editorial page editor at the Wall Street Journal, and he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize during his tenure there. He reportedly left because of disagreements over his vehemently anti-Trump rhetoric. Stephens has questioned conventional climate change thinking and rallied against antisemitism, making him quite unpopular with many Times colleagues and readers.
Karpf’s tweet was in response to the disclosure that the New York Times’ newsroom was infested with bedbugs. Here’s the academic insight that Karpf shared with the world: “The bedbugs are a metaphor. The bedbugs are Bret Stephens.”
Given the hostility and abuse Stephens has sustained since joining the Times two years ago, one might expect he’d be inured to peanut gallery criticisms. But the dehumanizing comment got to him, and he sent an email to Karpf, mistakenly assuming there was a gentleman on the other end.
Dear Dr. Karpf:
Someone just pointed out a tweet you wrote about 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 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.
Had I been the recipient of Stephens’ email after calling him a bedbug, I’d have been devastated. By taking the time to send the email, Stephens showed Karpf a certain respect and that his comment mattered. I read Stephens’ email as saying, “I’m a person with a family, and while you might not agree with my opinions, I’m still a human being.”
If I was a professor of public affairs and media influencing impressionable young students, I’d have quickly deleted and apologized profusely for the hurtful tweet. I would have asked Stephens if he might consider coming to speak to my students. In addition to working at the liberal Times and his senior position on the Journal’s editorial board, Stephens previously was editor of the Jerusalem Post. He has a wealth of real-world experience that even a college professor might benefit from.
Karpf viewed the email as a threat. He posted Stephens’ email on his Twitter feed.
Breitbart News, which adores Trump with the intensity the mainstream media despises him, jumped at the opportunity to deride a major critic of their idol. They ridiculed Stephens for his sensitivity and criticized him for copying Karpf’s boss on the email he sent. Stephens subsequently disabled his Twitter account and Trump injected himself into the conversation.
In fairness to Trump, the New York Times has more than its share of writers who post on Twitter with his tone and eloquence.
“The audacity and entitlement of white men is fucking incredible,” columnist Roxane Gay recently tweeted. “Frederick Douglass is an American hero, and his name has no business in your mouth,” editorial writer Mara Gay tweeted at Senator Ted Cruz. “Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men,” is a sample tweet from Harvard law school graduate Sarah Jeong before joining the Times’ editorial board.
Journalists are always opining that anyone who supports Trump is complicit in his hateful and divisive rhetoric. Seems to me that if they wanted to make a real statement of protest, they’d follow Stephens’ lead and stop crawling about in the Twitter sewer. Even in the digital age, you can still judge a person by the company they keep.