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At Axel Springer, Politico’s New Owner, Allegations of Sex, Lies and a Secret Payment

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 Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz, all formerly of Politico.

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.

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Accused Bild Editor, Julian Reichelt, is Reinstated but With a Co-Editor

The German publisher Axel Springer said Thursday that Julian Reichelt, editor of its newspaper Bild, would return to work after an internal inquiry found that lapses in his conduct were not serious enough to warrant dismissal.

Alexandra Würzbach, who had been running the newspaper since Mr. Reichelt stepped back from his duties on March 12, will remain as co-editor in chief, Springer said. Her duties will include personnel management as well as her previous role overseeing Bild’s Sunday edition.

Mr. Reichelt took a leave of absence after the magazine Der Spiegel reported that Springer was investigating complaints about his relationships with female employees and accusations of abuse of power. He was also accused of using drugs at the office.

The case stood out in part because the #MeToo movement has not had as much impact in Europe as it has in the United States, and cases of powerful men brought down by accusations of misconduct against women have been relatively rare.

Mathias Döpfner, the chief executive of Springer, said in a statement. “However, having assessed everything that was revealed as part of the investigation process, we consider a parting of the ways to be inappropriate.”

“Even if there is no need to take legal steps,” Mr. Döpfner added, “there is a need for change in the management culture in Bild’s editorial teams.”

In a statement, Mr. Reichelt conceded that he had made mistakes and said he was “very sorry.”

He said he would “do everything in my power to work on an equal standing with Alexandra Würzbach, and work together with all of my colleagues as a team to create and exemplify a new corporate culture for Bild.”

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Powerful German Editor, Accused of Misconduct, Takes Leave

The editor in chief of Bild, Europe’s largest newspaper and an influential force in German politics and society, has taken a leave of absence while a law firm conducts an investigation into accusations made against him, the publication’s owner said.

Julian Reichelt, the editor, denies accusations of misconduct, Axel Springer, Bild’s publisher, said in a statement. Springer said it had no “clear evidence” of misconduct, but had hired the law firm Freshfields to investigate the accusations. It did not specify what they were.

The accusations were first reported by the magazine Spiegel, which cited half a dozen female employees who had worked for Bild and complained of coercion by Mr. Reichelt. Spiegel did not name the female employees. The magazine said the women accused Mr. Reichelt of abusing his position of authority and creating a hostile work environment but did not provide further details.

“To make sure that the investigation process can be seen through to the end undisturbed, and the editorial team can work without further burdens,” Springer said, Mr. Reichelt “has asked the Axel Springer board to release him from his functions until the accusations have been clarified.”

powerful men brought down by accusations of misconduct against women have been relatively rare.

Germany and most European countries protect the identities of accused people in legal proceedings, making it more difficult for the media to report about cases of harassment.

Courts have often been unsympathetic. In 2019, a French court ordered the leader of the country’s equivalent to the #MeToo movement to pay damages to a former television executive she had accused of making salacious and humiliating advances to her.

With a print circulation of 1.2 million, Bild is Europe’s largest newspaper, but like most publications has suffered steep declines in print readership. In 2011, daily print sales averaged 2.8 million, according to the newspaper’s website, and that was down from 4 million in 1965.

opinion pieces. He had lately railed against what he said was the German government’s mismanagement of the pandemic crisis. He complained earlier this month that the authorities fined joggers for not wearing masks while federal and state governments bungled the rollout of vaccines.

Axel Springer, Bild’s parent company, is one of Europe’s most prominent media firms. Springer also owns Welt, a German daily newspaper; the online news site Business Insider; and Politico Europe. KKR, the private equity firm, owns 36 percent of Springer shares and holds three seats on the company’s nine-person supervisory board. Friede Springer, widow of founder Axel Springer, remains a major shareholder and a member of the board.

Springer said in a statement on Saturday that the investigation involving Mr. Reichelt would include “an evaluation of the credibility and integrity of all parties involved.”

The publisher added: “Prejudgments based on rumors are unacceptable for the Axel Springer corporate culture.”

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