The Legacy of James Aronson

A graduate of Harvard and the Columbia School of Journalism, James Aronson worked at the Boston Evening Transcript, the New York Post, the New York Herald Tribune, and The New York Times before becoming the editor of Frontpage, the publication of the New York Newspaper Guild. In 1948, he founded the National Guardian, a crusading newsweekly, with Cedric Belfrage and John J. McManus. They jointly edited the weekly until 1967.

“Throughout his career,” The New York Times wrote in James Aronson’s obituary in 1988, “[he] was a strong critic of much of the American press, which he contended in a book, The Press and the Cold War (first published in 1970), was essentially a voluntary arm of government.” The Boston Globe‘s obituary noted that “Mr. Aronson was managing editor of the[Guardian] when it published articles challenging the murder convictions of six blacks in New Jersey. Five of the six prisoners were acquitted at their retrial in 19951; the sixth died in prison.” In the 1950s, the Times reported, Aronson was called before congressional investigating committees to answer charges that, as a civilian press-control officer in Germany after World War II, he had licensed communists to establish newspapers. He testified that communists were not excluded by Allied military government regulations.

In 1979 Aronson became the first American professor invited to teach journalism in the Peoples Republic of China after diplomatic relations with the United States resumed. He taught journalism at New York University, the New School for Social Research, and Hunter College, where he was Thomas Hunter Professor of Communications.

Despite my grave doubt that the press of the country is willing to reform itself, I remain a realistic optimist about journalism. I believe that there is in the United States a company of honest journalists of all ages, conscious of the potential power of an informed people, who will never give up the effort to establish an honorable communication network.” — James Aronson, from The Press and the Cold War (1990 edition, Monthly Review Press)