Sep 6, 2022 - Economy

Axel Springer CEO defends leaked messages about Trump

Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Axel Springer, speaks in Berlin this year. Photo: Bernd von Jutrczenka-Pool/Getty Images

Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner on Tuesday defended messages to colleagues published in the Washington Post that seemed to show Döpfner supporting Donald Trump ahead of the 2020 election, arguing they were taken out of context.

Why it matters: Axel Springer is trying to position itself as a centrist publisher amid a U.S. media investment spree, but the company's history and recent headlines suggest a culture gap may remain between the German publishing giant and U.S. media.

Döpfner has "never tried to influence journalists" who work for him, he said onstage at Vox Media's annual Code Conference.

  • He said the leaked messages made sense to his colleagues within the culture of his company.
  • Döpfner told The Washington Post, in response to viewing a readout of the messages, that it’s possible he may have sent the email “as an ironic, provocative statement in the circle of people that hate Donald Trump.”
  • He said on stage Tuesday, that he sends “hundreds of text messages” every day and that “some of them are very provocative for joking.”

Driving the news: The Post cited messages sent by Döpfner to colleagues saying, “Do we all want to get together for an hour in the morning on November 3 and pray that Donald Trump will again become President of the United States of America?”

Details: In the interview, Döpfner said he sent the messages in response to news that the Trump administration was suing Google, an action he said he supported.

  • Later in the program, he called for global democracies to abandon TikTok.
  • "TikTok should be banned in every democracy," he said. "It's just insane not to do that," he continued, noting that Western companies are not allowed to enter China without adhering to strict censorship laws.

The big picture: In recent years, Axel Springer has invested in several U.S. media companies such as NowThis News and Ozy, in addition to acquisitions of companies like Insider, Morning Brew and most recently, Politico.

  • Axel Springer requires its German publications, which are some of the most widely consumed in the country, to adopt a strong pro-Israel stance. The company has not required Politico journalists to sign the same pro-Israel pledge.
  • Last year, Axel Springer removed a top editor following a New York Times report that alleged the publisher had ignored allegations of sexual misconduct. The saga was notable to U.S. readers, given the reckoning around the #MeToo movement in the U.S. media industry in recent years.
  • Asked about those events, Döpfner said Tuesday, "It is terrible that we trusted somebody who we shouldn't have trusted." He added, "I think we've learned a lot and we are getting better every year. "

Be smart: While Axel Springer's' flagship newspaper, Bild, is widely considered right of center, Döpfner said Tuesday, "I think we are leaning to the center. And that's where real journalism is unpredictable, open-minded."

Editor's note: This article was updated after publishing to include comments Döpfner made to the Washington Post and at Code Conference.

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