How not to respond to a Twitter critic

If you are at all involved in the world of media, you have to develop a fairly thick skin. But many establishment journalists, long used to not having immediate pushback on what they write, still get up in arms when they are criticized, however mildly, and simply make things worse.

A prime example is Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist for the New York Times. This article tells the story.

It began with a story about an apparent bedbug infestation at the New York Times building. Riffing on the newspaper’s predicament, David Karpf, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, poked fun at Stephens on Twitter on Monday evening. The post received nine likes and zero retweets.

Here is the tweet.

There are much worse things that can be said about you on the internet than being called a bedbug but Stephens was just outraged.

What followed was as close to the perfect Streisand effect as one could imagine. Stephens, who was not tagged in the original post, emailed Karpf, and copied in the provost of the university, in an apparent attempt to get Karpf in trouble.

And then it went viral.

Karpf shared news of the scolding on Twitter, in a post that has now been retweeted 7,500 times and liked 48,500 (and counting).

By Tuesday morning, Stephens was a top-trending topic on Twitter, with hundreds taking the opportunity to poke fun at his snitching – and his puerile invitation to come meet his family and insult him to his face. Stephens’ Wikipedia page has since been edited to read “Bret Bedbug Stephens”.

Karpf, the GWU professor, told Splinter: “I assume the thing that set him off here is that I’m a white guy with a PhD, and I think it offends his sensibility that fellow upper-standing white guys are saying mean things about him. I guess there’s some power structure he thinks I violated.”

In the end Stephens, who has in the past proudly claimed to be a free speech advocate and the need to be able to put up with discomforting opinions, announced that he is quitting Twitter, denouncing it as a sewer, which is probably just as well.

As they say, if you can’t stand the tweets, you should get out of the Twitter.


  1. jrkrideau says

    I do not know about the rest of GWU but my impression of the GWU economics department is than that they kowtow at the altar of Milton Friedman.

    They have also had a large plagiarism scandal with Ed Wagman. So far, my opinion on GWU is that it may be able to teach first year chemistry properly. Clearly it is not Liberty U but to some extent the question is “Just how different in ethics are these schools”?.

  2. says

    It was his frequent free speech warrior “you don’t have the right to not be offended” columns and criticisms about speech on campuses that made this too delicious for people. Anyone without his published history would have been snickered at, but to out himself as a tremendously thin-skinned hypocrite like that?

    AND HE WAS ON MSNBC THIS MORNING STILL WHINING WITHOUT A HINT OF EMBARRASSMENT! I got to watch it live and was surprised to see him sitting there but never thought it would be addressed. Then Chris Jansing started to ask him about it and this atheist swears she heard the trumpets of angels heralding a bright new dawn.

  3. says

    #3 Tabby Lavalamp wrote:

    … and this atheist swears she heard the trumpets of angels heralding a bright new dawn.

    Hilarious, thanks. YMMD. 😉

  4. Loren Petrich says

    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in response:
    Imagine being on Twitter and having the worst thing you’re called in a given day is “bedbug.” My own friends roast me harder than that 😂

    (For real though, it is pretty concerning that this guy abused his position to try to get someone fired over something so insignificant -- esp after creating a career defending vile language as a sacred freedom & deriding people organizing for basic human dignity as “snowflakes.”)

  5. deepak shetty says

    Heh. I knew , way before I reached that section , that this bed bug would be a freeze peacher. Its funny how thin skinned most of them are

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