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Is God Dead? (UPDATED)

Matt Schudel

In 1966, Time magazine ran a provocative cover with the bold question, "Is God Dead?" The story led to sharp backlash from social conservatives and sparked a public debate about philosophy and religion. The editor responsible for that story, Otto Fuerbringer, has died at 97, and his obituary is in today's (Friday's) Post.

Fuerbringer was the managing editor -- the top editorial job -- at Time magazine for most of the 1960s. He wielded extraordinary clout within the magazine and in the wider world of public affairs, when Time had the power to anoint presidential candidates and influence public events all over the world. This kind of power in one publication scarcely seems possible in today's age of fragmented media, but David Halberstam describes Time's immense impact in his book about leading news organizations of the 1960s and '70s, "The Powers That Be."

In that book, Halberstam describes Fuerbringer as "the most controversial man within Time magazine, immensely influential, perhaps the most influential conservative of his generation in journalism, but outside the magazine almost no one knew his name."

Fuerbringer was politically conservative, reflecting the views of Time's founder Henry Luce, and was a staunch early supporter of the Vietnam war. Later, Fuerbringer came to see that the war could not be won in a conventional sense and publicly wrote that in 1968. Despite his innate conservatism -- he came from a long line of Lutheran ministers in Missouri -- Fuerbringer had an openness to social trends that set him apart for his time.

The famous 1966 cover, with the words "Is God Dead?" emblazoned in red type on a black background, actually led to a far-reaching story about the theological and philosophical implications of faith in a secular age. Many people, however, were too quick to judge the magazine by its cover and denounced Time as a haven of godlessness.

Fuerbringer also put the sexual revolution of the 1960s on Time's cover as early as 1964 and always regretted the magazine's choice for its famous "Man of the Year" in 1965. He wanted to name the Beatles but was persuaded to drop the British rock group in favor Army Gen. William C. Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam.

Later, after Fuerbringer, was kicked upstairs at Time, he didn't twiddle his thumbs: He played crucial roles in the development of Money magazine (1972) and People magazine (1974), two of Time Inc.'s most original and prosperous publications.

By Matt Schudel |  July 31, 2008; 1:26 PM ET  | Category:  Matt Schudel
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