The college professor who New York Times columnist Brett Stephens targeted over an insulting tweet is firing back in an op-ed on Tuesday night, accusing his email of being an “abuse of his power.”
“Bret Stephens is above me in the status hierarchy. He knows this. I know this. He has won a Pulitzer Prize and has a regular op-ed column in the New York Times. I am just some professor… So I was surprised to receive an email from Bret Stephens last night,” George Washington University associate professor Dave Karpf began his piece published in Esquire.
Karpf had some fun at the expense of Stephens on Monday when he suggested that the bed bugs that had reportedly infested the Times newsroom last weekend were a “metaphor” and that the “bedbugs are Bret Stephens,” something Stephens took personally enough to email both him and the GWU provost.
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“I, meanwhile, was surprised that he had found the tweet at all. I had not used his Twitter handle in the message. With zero retweets, he would have had to look hard to find it on Twitter, and would have had to work even harder to take offense to such an innocuous joke,” Karpf explained. “But what was most striking to me was that he had gone to the effort to CC the provost. Including the Provost clarifies the intent of the message.”
“It means he was not reaching out in an earnest attempt to promote online civil discourse. 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.”
The associate professor knocked Stephens’ appearance on MSNBC, where he suggested that being called a “bed bug” is a tactic that traces back to “totalitarian regimes.”
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“You can draw your own conclusion as to whether my joke was worth a chuckle. But equating a random Twitter account with a totalitarian regime is a remarkably long walk,” Karpf reacted.
He went on to suggest that Stephens was being hypocritical since he has repeatedly denounced “safe spaces” and wrote an op-ed titled, “Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort,” which Karpf added “Discomfort for thee, but not for me, it would seem…”
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“Bret Stephens seems to think that his social status should render him immune from criticism from people like me. I think that the rewards of his social status come with an understanding that lesser-known people will say mean things about him online,” Karpf continued. “Stephens reached out to me in the mistaken belief that I would feel ashamed. He reached out believing my university would chastise me for provoking the ire of a writer at The New York Times. That’s an abuse of his social station. It cost me nothing, but it is an abuse of his power that would carry a real penalty for a younger or less privileged academic.”
“The Times should expect more of its writers. Stephens should expect more of himself. No one has freer speech than a public intellectual with a regular column in the paper of record. Stephens is free to say whatever he wants. With that freedom comes the discomfort that people will disagree with you. If Stephens is going to have this social power, he is going to have to learn to wield it more responsibly.”