After it was reported Monday that the Times Midtown Manhattan offices were infested with bedbugs, George Washington University associate professor David Karpf had some fun at Stephens' expense, tweeting, "The bedbugs are a metaphor. The bedbugs are Bret Stephens."
Despite getting little attention among other Twitter users, Stephens took issue with it and reached out to Karpf, as well as his employer, according to an email Karpf shared on Twitter.
"Someone just pointed out a tweet you wrote about me, calling me a 'bedbug,'" Stephens wrote in the email. "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."
The Times columnist went on to invite Karpf to his home, meet his wife and children, and then "call me 'bedbug' to my face."
"That would take some genuine courage and intellectual integrity on your part," Stephens told the college professor. "I promise to be courteous no matter what you have to say. Maybe it will make you feel better about yourself."
Stephens clarified that his offer was a "standing invitation" and that Karpf was welcome to bring his significant other.
On Tuesday, Stephens defended his response on MSNBC and insisted he wasn't trying to get Karpf fired from the university.
"There is a bad history of being analogized to insects that goes back to a lot of totalitarian regimes," Stephens said.
The controversy sparked an avalanche of mockery and the hashtag "#Bretbug began trending on Twitter.
Critics panned Stephens' appearance on MSNBC.
"Stephens’ whole 'I didn’t copy his boss on the email to get him in trouble' BS is in many ways the wimpiest part," radio show host Buck Sexton reacted.
GWU Provost Forrest Maltzman invited Stephens to give a talk at the university on "civil discourse in the digital age." He also made clear that the university was not taking action against Karpf.
"His opinions are his own," Maltzman told Stephens. "Our commitment to academic freedom and free speech are integral to GW's mission."
The op-ed columnist announced Tuesday morning he was deactivating his Twitter account.
"Time to do what I long promised to do," Stephens began his last tweet. "Twitter is a sewer. It brings out the worst in humanity. I sincerely apologize for any part I've played in making it worse, and to anyone I've ever hurt. Thanks to all of my followers, but I'm deactivating this account."
Fox News' Sam Dorman contributed to this report.