The chief executive of a German publishing giant sought to acquire and merge two rival news outlets in a secretive deal this year, The New York Times reports. Crucially, the merger reportedly would have left one of the publications in the dark about its “sneaky” terms until it was too late to object. Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner spent the better part of the spring and summer in simultaneous talks with Washington news organizations Politico and Axios, concealing his end goal of combination, the Times reports.
Axios, a site founded by three former Politico journalists who exited under strained circumstances, became aware of the plan in July. Axios’ co-founder and CEO, Jim VandeHei—formerly executive editor and co-founder of Politico—reportedly told Axios’ board that Döpfner had put forward installing VandeHei at the head of the merged entity. He also told the board that Döpfner, aware of the lingering bad blood between Politico and its former employees, suggested keeping the proposed merger under wraps until it was too late for Politico to back out.
VandeHei said that was “not how we do business here,” two sources in the room told the Times. He reportedly pulled out of the deal shortly after. In August, Axel Springer acquired Politico in a takeover deal exceeding $1 billion. A spokesperson for Döpfner denied the Times’ report. “We were truthful and straightforward about our plans and intentions,” he stated. “No lies and no deceptions.”