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Axel Springer: Sexual Misconduct of Bild Editor Julian Reichelt Has a Long History

  • October 20, 2021

In response to questions for this article, lawyers representing Reichelt and the publishing house claimed that the accusations are untrue; that they do not have any serious weight or criminal relevance; that they had all been examined by external third parties and that the compliance proceedings had been suspended after several weeks because no proof of punishable behavior had been found; that Reichelt is not a public figure and that his personal relationships are therefore not of public interest. They also argue that the behavior took place some time ago and is thus not of current interest.

Now, though, it is. With Reichelt now ousted, Axel Springer has appointed Johannes Boie, currently the editor-in-chief of the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, to be the new co-editor-in-chief of Bild, joining Alexandra Würzbach, who is remaining in her current position.

After Springer’s rather extraordinary press release in the spring, the public was left wondering what exactly was meant by “mistakes.” The claim that there were no indications of abuse of power, as Springer said at the time, can hardly be believed after deeper reporting. In recent months, a DER SPIEGEL team spoke with a half-dozen women who were questioned as part of the compliance proceedings, as well as with people close to those women. It also viewed hundreds of text messages, messages sent via apps and emails in addition to examining documents – all in an effort to determine the veracity of the claims that had been made against Reichelt.

Extremely Improper

The New York Times ran a story on the Reichelt case on Sunday. Journalist Ben Smith wrote that there were “accusations of sex, lies and a secret payment” and named several cases from the compliance proceeding also known to DER SPIEGEL. A reporting team of the Ippen publishing house in Germany have also examined the accusations against Reichelt in recent months. The publication of that text had been imminent in recent days but was stopped at short notice by publisher Dirk Ippen. The reason provided was a desire to avoid the appearance of seeking to damage a competitor in the newspaper market. Some of the research conducted by Ippen has now been incorporated into this DER SPIEGEL report.

The reporting paints a picture of an editor-in-chief whose treatment of female subordinates was at times extremely improper, given the power imbalance between early-career young women and a man who, for quite some time, has been Germany’s most powerful tabloid journalist. It involves sex that may have been consensual, but which was also apparently tied to professional advantages and disadvantages. It involves urgent text messages in the middle of the night. And ultimately, it involves a way of treating women that can hardly be excused by the fact that the apparent newsroom sexism was but a reflection of the sexism reflected in the pages of the paper itself.

It’s not like there aren’t any powerful women at Bild. The company culture, though, has always been male dominated. “It’s a man’s world,” says one long-term leadership figure. Women, the source says, were largely judged by their “fuckability” – both in the reporting and internally. Another source says that women were sometimes included in newsroom conferences as “decoration.”

But Reichelt was a special case, even by Bild standards. His behavior toward women seemed to follow a certain pattern: He would praise them for their work, entrust them with tasks that required a lot of responsibility or promote them to positions for which – partly by their own admission – they were not suited. Reichelt was simultaneously a promoter and a seducer of young women.

Employees described Reichelt as obsessed with power. As someone who took an aggressive tone, who humiliated people, who saw traitors and competitors everywhere. But women who got involved with him also saw a different side. As someone who wrote sweet messages, who showed himself to be approachable, vulnerable, who could also cry. And who quickly gave them the feeling that they were an important part of his life. “He convinces a person in short span of time to run across a burning bridge,” says one person from his professional milieu.

Several former colleagues said that people at Bild had grown accustomed to Reichelt’s behavior. There were instances, they say, that before new female trainees would enter a meeting room, there was an announcement. “Careful, that’s one of Julian’s.”

Unrelenting Flattery

One of the women who testified against Reichelt – we’ll call her Constanze Müller for the purposes of this article – was questioned in March by the business law firm Freshfields, which Springer hired to carry out the investigation. According to a transcript of the conversation obtained by DER SPIEGEL via a third party, the head of the investigation wanted to know if Reichelt made jobs dependent on whether a person slept with him. The woman answered that she was the best example of this.

Müller, too, had been drawn in by Reichelt with compliments. This was in 2016, when she was a trainee and he was the head of digital operations for Bild. He complimented her intelligence, her looks, her work. Ultimately the flattery worked, and they slept together. Like many other women – as is described in the transcript – Müller thought Reichelt was trustworthy and charming, and fell for him.

Reichelt apparently knew at the time that the relationship could become problematic for him. Müller told Freshfields that Reichelt asked her back then to delete her entire message history and that if someone found out about their relationship, they would have “very big trouble.” But the messages that prove the existence of their relationship still existed. Müller herself declined to comment when contacted.

Article source: https://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/careful-that-s-one-of-julian-s-sexual-misconduct-of-top-axel-springer-editor-has-a-long-history-a-f8716e7c-e61e-4362-b3b2-0f3bac5954c7#ref=rss

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