He also said the Bild workplace culture would not be replicated in the United States. “We will not tolerate any behavior in our organizations worldwide that does not follow our very clear compliance policies. We aspire to be the best digital media company in the democratic world with the highest ethical standards and an inclusive, open culture,” he said.
Axel Springer forwarded a letter from lawyers stating that Bild was not legally obliged to fire Mr. Reichelt.
But a March 1 message from Mr. Döpfner to a friend with whom he later had a falling out over the way the company handled the allegations against Mr. Reichelt, Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre, suggests that, while Mr. Döpfner was central to deciding how to act on the investigation’s findings as chief executive, he may not have been impartial. In the message, sent after Axel Springer had become aware of the allegations, but before the investigation was underway, Mr. Döpfner referred to an opinion column by Mr. Reichelt complaining about Covid restrictions.
Mr. Döpfner wrote that “we have to be especially careful” in the investigation, because Mr. Reichelt “is really the last and only journalist in Germany who is still courageously rebelling against the new GDR authoritarian state,” according to a copy of the message that I obtained. (The reference to GDR, or Communist East Germany, in this context, is a bit like “woke mob.”) Mr. Döpfner also wrote that Mr. Reichelt had “powerful enemies.”
Mr. Döpfner’s political statement in that message may seem at odds with his stated plans for his new American properties, which The Wall Street Journal reported last week, will “embody his vision of unbiased, nonpartisan reporting, versus activist journalism, which, he said, is enhancing societal polarization in the U.S. and elsewhere.”
As Axel Springer was struggling to contain the fallout from the Bild investigation, Mr. Döpfner’s focus was on Washington. This spring and summer, he conducted secret, parallel conversations with executives at two rival news organizations based in Washington, Politico and Axios, the site started in 2016 by the former Politico journalists Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz.
Mr. Döpfner’s goal was to buy both and combine them into a mighty competitor to the nation’s largest news outlets. The Politico acquisition, announced in August, was a triumph for his company. But behind the scenes, Axel Springer’s courting style had alienated its other target.