Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Tuesday evening was incredulous over the behavior of New York Times columnist Bret Stephens in response to an innocuous tweet mocking him as a metaphorical bedbug infesting the Times offices.
On Monday, after news broke of the Times "infestation," George Washington University digital communications professor David Karpf joked that the bedbugs represented Stephens. That prompted Stephens to send an email to Karpf—cc-ing the university's provost—asking Karpf to come to Stephens' home and say it to his face.
"He cc-ed my provost, which is an offensive power move," Karpf told Splinter writer Rebecca Fishbein. "So I felt the most appropriate thing to do was to share on Twitter, 'Look, a thin-skinned writer at The New York Times didn't like a tweet that I wrote that got 0 retweets and 9 likes, and he cc-ed the provost, and now here we are.'"
"Imagine being on Twitter and having the worst thing you're called in a given day is 'bedbug,'" said Ocasio-Cortez. "My own friends roast me harder than that."
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— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) August 28, 2019
The New York Democrat added parenthetically that Stephens' actions after finding the tweet, which, as Karpf revealed in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, included emailing Karpf's director, were "pretty concerning" in the context of Stephens "creating a career defending vile language as a sacred freedom and deriding people organizing for basic human dignity as 'snowflakes.'"
(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.”)— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) August 28, 2019
Ocasio-Cortez's comments came after a morning appearance by Stephens on MSNBC wherein the beleagured opinion writer claimed that Karpf's language was reminiscent of authoritarian regimes using dehumanizing language to refer to scapegoated communities. It was a claim that was roundly mocked by observers.
On MSNBC, Bret Stephens characterizes Dr Dave Karpf referring to him as a metaphorical "bedbug" on Twitter as akin to language used by "totalitarian regimes," adds that he had "no intention whatsoever to get him in any kind of professional trouble" when he tattled to Karpf's boss pic.twitter.com/iNJAvzPnMt— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 27, 2019
"I was going to joke, 'When will Bari Weiss write a column about how comparing Bret Stephens to a bedbug is a sign of the anti-Semitism of the left?,'" tweeted Boston-based activist Jonathan Cohn, "but he seems to already be running with that himself."
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Writer Wendi Muse took the opportunity to make a broader point about media.
"That MSNBC had on Bret Stephens at all says a lot about how far this network has fallen," Muse said. "And here I am thinking all the 24/7 Russiagate coverage was the nail in the coffin, but somehow they managed to fall further."
As numerous commentators pointed out, Stephens himself has a history of using dehumanizing language to refer to his targets, particularly the Palestinian people, whom he referred to as "mosquitoes" in a 2013 column for The Wall Street Journal. Stephens also at the Journal in August 2016 made reference to a so-called "disease of the Arab mind" and attempted to excuse a March 2019 Times headline claiming "Palestinian Lives Don't Matter*" was not what he really meant due to the asterisk at the end of it.
I find it odd that Bret Stephens was so offended by a bed bug, when in 2013, he called Palestinians "mosquitoes" pic.twitter.com/PVEOclymQP— Esha (@eshaLegal) August 28, 2019
Stephens has also repeatedly used his platform to deny climate change, called institutionalized racism "imaginary," referred to the Black Lives Matter movement as "thuggish," and dismissed campus rape as a marginal issue.
In June, Stephens made a clear differentiation between "us" and "them" in a column attacking the first Democratic debates:
They speak Spanish. We don't. They are not U.S. citizens or legal residents. We are. They broke the rules to get into this country. We didn't. They pay few or no taxes. We already pay most of those taxes. They willingly got themselves into debt. We're asked to write it off. They don't pay the premiums for private health insurance. We're supposed to give up ours in exchange for some V.A.-type nightmare. They didn't start enterprises that create employment and drive innovation. We're expected to join the candidates in demonizing the job-creators, breaking up their businesses and taxing them to the hilt.
The combination of hateful language with his behavior in reaction to being lightly mocked, open internet advocate Jillian York said, makes Stephens "a racist, a hack, and a snowflake."
Stephens will almost certainly continue to enjoy his privilege as a Times columnist, a development that was bemoaned by researcher Ben Spielberg.
"Our institutions grant privileged white men with unsubstantiated and unethical opinions far more opportunities than millions of much more qualified people," said Spielberg. "Bret Stephens is living proof of this fact."