Childhood & Early Life
Bret Louis Stephens was born on November 21, 1973, in New York City, U.S., to Charles and Xenia Stephens. His was an upper-class family. His father worked as the vice president of a major chemical company in Mexico, while his mother was a housewife.
Bret Stephens was raised in a liberal and secular environment, owing to his parents’ inclination toward secular Judaism. Hence, the family was not too religious. His paternal grandfather had arrived in New York City from Moldova, after a pogrom that threatened the existence of Jews in the country in the early 1900s.
His grandfather, Louis Stephens, then moved to Mexico and founded a chemist company named ‘General Products.’ The company became hugely successful, and his grandfather built a fortune. Later, Bret’s father joined the company and moved to Mexico City with his family. Bret thus grew up in Mexico City.
Bret completed his elementary education in Mexico. At the age of 14, he joined the ‘Middlesex School,’ a boarding school located in Massachusetts. He was a bright student and developed an interest in national politics somewhere around his high-school years. This was also due to the “hostile” environment he faced in Mexico, owing to his religious identity. He stated that despite his family consisting of progressive Jews, they faced contempt from the Mexican Christians.
Following his high-school graduation, he aspired to pursue anthropology. Instead, he opted to study political philosophy at the ‘University of Chicago.’ Following his graduation, he wanted to become a naval officer. However, since he had high blood pressure, he was rejected. He then joined the ‘London School of Economics’ and completed his MA in comparative politics.
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After moving to New York at the age of 25, Bret Stephens joined ‘The Wall Street Journal’ as an op-ed editor. Most of his writings were inspired by neo-conservatism, a concept he had learned about during his college years. He later moved to Brussels, to join ‘The Wall Street Journal Europe,’ where he covered the political dynamics in the ‘European Union.’
He served as the editor of the weekly column ‘State of the Union.’ He also joined the magazine titled ‘Commentary’ in the early 2000s and has been one of its regular contributors since then.
However, he was miffed by the way the mainstream American media had been representing Jews and Israel back then. He stated that the media had a narrow-minded approach. The Western media was misinformed about Israel being the main aggressor in the Middle-Eastern conflicts.
In 2002, Bret Stephens got a big breakthrough when he was hired as the editor-in-chief of the ‘The Jerusalem Post.’ He was an American and thus received a lot of criticism from the management and staff of the Israeli company after being hired for the top job. In 2004, he left the ‘The Jerusalem Post’ and moved back to ‘The Wall Street Journal,’ taking over as the editor of their “Global View” column.
His columns reflected his neo-conservative and right-wing opinions, especially when it came to his commentaries on foreign policies, his field of specialization. His political beliefs were in coherence with the then-president, George Bush, who advocated for armed conflicts abroad, especially in the Middle Eastern region. Bret argued that since those countries were riddled with illiteracy and dictatorship, America should intervene through military forces and establish democracy in those regions.
Bret Stephens was one of the most publicly open supporters of the Iraq War in 2003. He wrote a column in 2002, mentioning that Iraq becoming a nuclear power would be destructive to the world and to the Middle East. Bret supported Bush’s decision to invade Iraq by saying that there were good reasons to do so.
He also criticized the Iran nuclear deal of 2015 and compared it to the 1938 Munich agreement with ‘Nazi’ Germany.
He has also been highly vocal about his support for Israel. When an Egyptian athlete refused to shake hands with his Israeli opponent at the ‘Olympic,’ he stated it was an act of anti-Semitism and claimed it had been prevalent in the Arab world for centuries.
In the 2016 United States presidential elections, Bret Stephens was a staunch critic of Donald Trump and his run for president. He kept criticizing Trump through the years. He once compared Trump to the ruthless Italian dictator Mussolini.
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He is also known for being vocal about his contrarian beliefs on global warming. Though he agrees that industrialization has damaged the environment to some extent, he refuses to believe that environmental changes can ever harm human beings. He also believes that the whole “global warming” movement is a fear-mongering tactic. As a result of his beliefs, he has been heavily criticized by environmentalists across the globe.
In November 2014, he released his book ‘America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder,’ in which he criticized the Obama administration and claimed that America had been losing its “world’s policeman” image in the recent decades. He claimed that the U.S. needed to take up the role of being the “most powerful nation” in the world and act strictly, as it could prevent several global conflicts.
In August 2015, he released the book ‘Has Obama Made the World a More Dangerous Place?’ It raised the same questions he had mentioned in his earlier book.
In 2013, he received a ‘Pulitzer Prize for Commentary,’ for his intelligent columns on American politics and foreign affairs.
In 2005, the ‘World Economic Forum’ honored him after placing him on the ‘Young Global Leaders’ list. A few years later, he won the ‘Eric Breindel Award for Excellence in Opinion Journalism.’ Additionally, he has also been part of two juries, in 2016 and 2017, respectively, to decide on the ‘Pulitzer Prize’ winners.
In 2017, he joined the ‘The New York Times’ as an opinion journalist, after leaving ‘The Wall Street Journal.’ He also regularly appears on ‘MSNBC’ and ‘NBC News.’
In August 2019, a professor of the ‘George Washington University’ called him a “bedbug,” after which he registered a formal complaint with the university. He later wrote an opinion piece, describing this criticism as similar to the name-calling rampant in ‘Nazi ‘Germany.
In 2019, he was dragged into a controversy when he claimed in a column that Ashkenazi Jews were the most superior and intelligent of all the Jews. This piece was deleted by ‘The New York Times’ after people accused them of racism.