Guided Time in turbulent times

Otto Fuerbringer, 97, the commanding managing editor who guided Time magazine through the turbulence of the 1960s and who helped launch Money and People magazines a decade later, died July 28 in Fullerton, Calif. His son, Jonathan Fuerbringer, said the cause of death had not been determined.

Fuerbringer became managing editor of Time, the magazine's top editorial position, in 1960 and held the job for eight years. He was known in equal measure for his conservative political tastes, his imperious manner and his receptiveness to the fast-moving social trends of the era.

He had a stern, demanding editorial style that led Time staffers to call him the “Iron Chancellor” as he steered the magazine on a rightward course that reflected the views of the magazine's co-founder, Henry Luce. In its skepticism of the presidential candidacy of John F. Kennedy and in its initial support of the Vietnam War, Fuerbringer's Time magazine was something of the official voice of the conservative establishment.

“Fuerbringer was a striking figure, a man of presence, and he held power decisively and did not encourage dissent,” David Halberstam wrote in his 1979 book about the nation's leading news outlets, “The Powers That Be.”

“He was 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,” Halberstam wrote.

In 1952, Fuerbringer wrote a critical cover article on Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson that was seen as crucial to the victory of Republican Dwight Eisenhower.

When Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Fuerbringer outraged many on his staff by not putting the president on the magazine's cover, choosing instead to run a portrait of his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson.

After voicing strong initial support for the war in Vietnam, Fuerbringer slowly changed his mind and, in 1968, wrote that the war could not be won.

In 1965, Fuerbringer had planned to name the Beatles as Time's iconic “Men of the Year” until he was dissuaded by lower-level editors. The magazine instead named Gen. William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, its man of the year.

Fuerbringer's son said his father always regretted the decision.

“He was very open to the cultural trends of the time and making sure Time magazine wrote about them,” Jonathan Fuerbringer, a retired New York Times reporter, said by telephone.

Nonetheless, Fuerbringer found a successful formula during his eight years at the helm, as the magazine's circulation rose from 3 million to 5 million.

“Otto was Time magazine sprung to life,” Halberstam wrote, “a living extension of the very magazine he edited.”