JESSICA VALENTI

The Unbearable Fragility of Bret Stephens

The New York Times columnist cites ‘free speech’ when marginalized people are targeted, but bemoans a ‘lack of civility’ when he’s the one under the microscope

Jessica Valenti
GEN
Published in
3 min readAug 27, 2019

--

Brett Stephens appears on Meet the Press. Photo: NBC NewsWire/Getty Images

TThe New York Times columnist Bret Stephens quit Twitter today, two years after promising to do so, when his attempt to endanger a man’s job over a joke went viral.

It started when George Washington University professor David Karpf cracked a joke about the infestation of bedbugs in the New York Times building, tweeting, “The bedbugs are a metaphor. The bedbugs are Bret Stephens.” The columnist responded by emailing Karpf and CC’ing his provost — challenging the professor to say the same “to my face.”

Karpf, who noted that the tweet had no retweets and fewer than 10 likes when Stephens sent his email, told the Washington Post, “He not only thinks I should be ashamed of what I wrote, he thinks that I should also get in trouble for it. That’s an abuse of his power.”

It’s also rank hypocrisy. When writer Kevin Williamson was taken to task (and later fired from his job at the Atlantic) for saying women who have abortions should be executed by hanging, Stephens called the outrage a “censorious furor,” writing that “critics show bad faith when they treat an angry tweet or a flippant turn of phrase as proof of moral incorrigibility.”

Are we to believe that arguing for the murder of a quarter of the female population is “flippant,” but calling Stephens a bedbug is an offense worthy of censure?

This is someone who mocked sexual assault survivors for wanting a break room with counselors during a debate on rape culture, a writer who questioned the “moral proportion” of firing sexual harassers. Is targeting a professor’s job for a barely seen quip morally proportional? Are high-profile columnists more deserving of a “safe space?”

Stephens had a similar blowup last month when he bemoaned critiques of a column that many felt was racist. And he’s not the only man at the Times to try to force apologies. Earlier this month, the paper demoted Washington editor Jonathan Weisman after he sent emails to feminist

--

--

Jessica Valenti
GEN
Writer for

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.