If 'Bedbug' Bret Stephens Were a Person of Color, He'd Be Fired on the Spot | Opinion

Being in media and sharing your opinions are bound to draw ire, and sometimes even worse. So when David Karpf, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, tweeted a snarky comment about conservative columnist Bret Stephens, it seemed like harmless, standard Twitter fare that, with only nine likes and zero retweets, was destined for obscurity. That is, until Stephens heard about it.

Commenting on a story about how bedbugs had infested The New York Times newsroom, Karpf quipped on Monday, "The bedbugs are a metaphor. The bedbugs are Bret Stephens."

What Stephens did in response to the tweet, which didn't even tag him, shows his entitlement, as well as the double standard that exists in many newsrooms. He did not just reply to it. Instead, he chose to use his position as a New York Times columnist to attack Karpf. As a person of color who is in media, I am sure that had I done what Stephens did, my career would be over.

A few hours after Karpf tweeted, Stephens shot him a mildly threatening and extremely passive-aggressive email—and cc'd his provost at George Washington University. He wrote that Karpf's use of the term "bedbug" to describe him was "dehumanizing" and told Karpf to come to his home and "call me 'a bedbug' to my face."

Alright fine... here is the email: pic.twitter.com/A4E5I6CoB6

— dave karpf (@davekarpf) August 27, 2019

We all get angry, and perhaps even a little vindictive, sometimes—especially when attacked on social media. But by the next morning, we usually regret responding viciously. Not so with Stephens, who went on to MSNBC bright and early Tuesday to double-down on his claims of dehumanization.

Responding to the notion that he was trying to get Karpf fired, Stephens explained that he emailed the provost because "managers should be aware of the way in which their people, their professors or journalists, interact with the rest of the world." He also rejected the idea that his suggestion that Karpf come to his home was in any way a threat.

As person of color in the media, I am often subjected to vile harassment online and elsewhere. For example, at one point, a man calling himself a journalist contacted the Navy command where I was assigned as a reservist and asked if they were aware that I had been appearing on television and speaking in an official capacity. The claim could have cost me my job or worse. Yet it was as unfounded as it was brazen.

However, the pattern of harassment continued, and after a relatively innocuous MSNBC appearance, I received a litany of death threats.

Finally, I trudged off to the local police department, where a detective was assigned to investigate the threats. Unlike Stephens, I would never consider inviting these people to my house—or suggesting they repeat themselves in person anywhere.

My case is tame compared with those of my colleagues of color. Take my good friend Malcom Nance, a three-time New York Times bestselling author, media commentator, respected intelligence professional and retired Navy senior chief. After Nance warned on television that ISIS might target Trump hotels, he found himself the victim of a vicious smear campaign by Breitbart, the Washington Examiner and others. His warning was patently misrepresented as a threat, with Breitbart falsely stating he called "for ISIS bombing of Trump property." The baseless claim, which targeted the only black national security expert at MSNBC, was much worse than being called a bedbug.

Bret Stephens and Lindsay Graham
Moderator Bret Stephens and Lindsay Graham appear on stage during a Christians United for Israel summit in Washington, D.C., on July 13, 2015. Alex Wong/Getty

Or consider the experiences of another friend, writer Ijeoma Oluo. She received a call from the King County Sheriff's Office as she was boarding a flight. The police had received a report of gunshots overheard at her home. But the report was false. Oluo was a victim of "swatting," where someone calls 911 and makes a false claim in the hopes of having police break down your door.

"As a black writer and activist who has been threatened, doxed and swatted at home for fighting for black lives," Oluo told me Tuesday, "I've never been called a bedbug. But if Bret wants to make a trade, I'll take it so my family can feel safe at home."

In the era of fake news and rising white supremacy, public figures who happen to be persons of color are attacked online and in "real life" openly, repeatedly and viciously. The venom and anger expressed toward us aren't just because of our opinions or our work, but also because of the color of our skin. We understand that a double standard exists for us, and we persist. Yet all of us would trade that double standard for being labeled a bedbug.

All of which leads me to one conclusion: Bret Stephens isn't a bedbug. He's an entitled coward, and a bully to boot.

Naveed Jamali spent three years working undercover for the FBI against Russian military intelligence. He tells the story in his book How to Catch a Russian Spy. He is a member of Left of Bang, a group of military veterans working to prevent gun violence.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​