Opinion: Bret Stephens and David Karpf: A pox on both their beds

A bedbug infestation at the New York Times building prompted a college professor to tweet a joke about a conservative columnist at the paper.
(Justin Lane / EPA)

The latest trivial battle between left and right pits a liberal college professor against a well-known conservative columnist at the New York Times. If you guessed that most of our letters would side with the professor, you’d be wrong.

I’m talking about the dustup on Twitter (where else?) between the New York Times’ Bret Stephens and George Washington University professor David Karpf, who called Stephens a “bedbug” on Twitter. Stephens responded with an e-mail to Karpf and his boss; Karpf then wrote an op-ed article in the L.A. Times accusing the columnist of abusing his power.

Karpf did not get much sympathy from our letter writers.

Anne Chomyn of Altadena does not like name-calling:

Karpf took umbrage at the fact that Stephens copied the college provost on an email inviting Karpf to call him a bedbug to his face. Karpf accused Stephens of unfairly wielding his power as a columnist for the New York Times to make trouble for Karpf.


Well, it turns out this is working out well for the professor, who has since written an op-ed article for the L.A. Times, had an essay published in Esquire, been interviewed by Slate and National Public Radio, and been the focus of multiple articles online.

Karpf glosses over the insult, calling it a “tame joke.” It was name-calling, the worst form of argument, and a type of tweet that should be beneath a digital media expert.

Linda Bradshaw Carpenter of Los Angeles didn’t want to read about this spat in the L.A. Times:

Why would The Times find it relevant to publish anything about some tiff between two guys that I am sure most of us readers couldn’t care less about? Their email and Twitter feud should have vanished quickly, but you had to publish something on it.

There really must not be any positive news or accomplishments of consequence right now for this to get your attention. The world is a really big place; get out of your own way and go find more positive things to write about.

Calabasas resident Gilbert Skoop is sympathetic to Stephens:


I find Karpf’s op-ed article to be self-serving hogwash.

I too am not a fan of Stephens, going back to his days at the Wall Street Journal, but in this instance I find him more credible than Karpf. His email to him was intended to counter the stupid invective posted frequently on Twitter by people like Karpf, who expect to be protected by something like anonymity.

Stephens invited Karpf to his home, to meet his family and then to call him a bedbug to his face. Obviously, this was something Karpf could not do. It’s far easier to insult by Twitter than face to face.

Civility was exactly what Stephens’ email was about. It’s a shame that Karpf and others like him who use social media do not understand the meaning of civility.