White-on-White Violence: How a Bedbug Diss Teaches Us Everything We Need to Know About White Male Fragility [Updated]

Screenshot: MSNBC

The white male ego and Twitter don’t mix. The white male ego is a frozen raindrop falling on a bed of ice. Twitter is a flamethrower. The white male ego is freshly fallen snow. Twitter is dog piss. The white male ego is a snowflake. Twitter is hell.

On Monday, “Let me speak to your manager” Twitter reached peak caucasity after a professor called a New York Times columnist a bedbug.

This is white-on-white violence and it’s rampant on Twitter. It basically works like this: A white guy (almost always a white guy) says something utterly harmless about another white guy, who then pulls out his phone or his computer (which is the white-guy superpower) and starts making calls or typing emails to see how quickly he can bring the full weight of his whiteness down on the offender. Think Thanos’ snap if Thanos was a fragile white man.

It all started with a report of bedbugs. An email sent to New York Times staffers noting that the newsroom was dealing with bedbugs was leaked online, and because it’s funny to all of us who don’t work in the Times newsroom, people on Twitter began poking fun at the news.

David Karpf, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, figured he’d tease his least favorite Times writer, conservative columnist Bret Stephens.

“The bedbugs are a metaphor,” Karpf tweeted on Monday. “The bedbugs are Bret Stephens,” the Washington Post reports.

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Though funny, the tweet was a dud. It got nine likes and zero retweets, according to Karpf. Either Bret Stephens was searching his name on Twitter or Bret Stephens was searching his name on Twitter, because Stephens doesn’t follow Karpf nor was he tagged in the tweet. But somehow he found the tweet and had time to send an email to Karpf and the provost at GWU.

“I’m often amazed about the things supposedly decent people are prepared to say about other people—people they’ve never met—on Twitter. I think you’ve set a new standard,” Stephens wrote, the Post reports. “I would welcome the opportunity for you to come to my home, meet my wife and kids, talk to us for a few minutes, and then call me a ‘bedbug’ to my face. That would take some genuine courage and intellectual integrity on your part.”

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Nothing says, “Hey, look at me, I’m a fucking bedbug” like a passive-aggressive, sternly worded, correctly punctuated email.

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Karpf, realizing that he had something here, took a moment to post Stephens’ full email to Twitter. For those not familiar with Stephens’ work, know this: He’s a climate-change denier. This is the same man who, while working at the Wall Street Journal, called the campus rape epidemic an “imaginary enemy” and suggested anti-Semitism was “the disease of the Arab mind,” as the Post reports. Stephens also had this to say about the differences between Americans and Latinx immigrants:

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Several of his columns have fueled a crusade to have readers cancel their New York Times subscriptions, and people wonder why the Grey Lady continues to employ such a heel, and yet, it was being called a bedbug—an insect who is basically so lazy, it hangs out in bed all day and waits at night to bite unsuspecting humans—that got Stephens’ man panties (manties?) all in a bunch.

A bedbug is basically a mosquito without ambition. Stephens is totally a bedbug. But it was this exchange, this digital fisticuffs that proved too much for Stephens, who literally logged off Twitter permanently by deactivating his account. Stephens is no longer on Twitter because the medium has proven too harsh for his delicate sensibilities and his fragile ego; he had this to say about the whole ordeal:

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I just got off the phone with Taylor Swift, who noted that Stephens is a punk. It might be time for Stephens to woman up. Stephens just sat on national TV in front of the entire bedbug community and sounded like the saddest snowflake in A Charlie Brown Christmas special. A delegation of white men is currently working the phones to see if any sub-human species will take his contract.

Twitter is an adult playground of all kind of nasty and hate-filled comments, but being called a bedbug might be the nicest comment a woman, LGBTQ+ person or any person of color who has an avatar photo has ever been called on the platform. It’s time for Stephens to grow some ovaries. Especially after he’s tweeted this out:

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And this:

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And this:

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And this:

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This isn’t the first time Stephens has gone full snowflake; he once chastised a writer at Splinter, our sister site, in an email (of course) for calling him “remarkably dumb,” a response that was also posted on the site, because awesome.

“He tends to write pretty lightweight, poorly researched columns about things that I know something about,” Karpf said. “So I’ve always seen him as this person that everyone complains about but we just can’t get rid of. He’s a bedbug.”

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Karpf told the Post that he sent the tweet around 5 p.m. and thought it was a “subtle but funny joke.” He didn’t tag Stephens because he figured that would be rude. Stephens claimed in his email that “someone just pointed out a tweet you wrote about me,” but that is most likely bullshit. The tweet went nowhere and Stephens didn’t want to admit that he was searching his name on Twitter again.

“You need to work very hard to find a tweet that obscure, and then work harder to find the writer’s email and their provost’s email to CC them, too,” Karpf said.

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Karpf told the Post that had the bedbug email not included his boss, he would have been willing to engage in a civil conversation with the lazy mosquito.

“I would have treated this as an opportunity for conversation and dialogue if he hadn’t CC’d my provost,” he said, “which was clearly an attempt to threaten me with punishment.

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“I’d be happy to have a dialogue, not just about the tenor of Twitter comments but also about power and how to appropriately use it,” he said. “But I assume he won’t want to talk. He ought to be embarrassed.”

But the exchange wasn’t a total waste for Karpf.

“I teach strategic political communication,” he said, “and we will certainly be talking about this case in my class on Wednesday.”

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Hopefully, they will have a full discussion about the white male ego being akin to a Fabergé egg laying on a bed of feathers infested with bedbugs.

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Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019, 3:15 p.m. ET: GWU Provost Forrest Maltzman has responded to Stephens’ email, and for the TL;DR crowd, he states, it’s Twitter, grow up. Also come to campus and talk about your fragility, Mr. Glass.

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About the author

Stephen A. Crockett Jr.

Senior Editor @ The Root, boxes outside my weight class, when they go low, you go lower.