James Aronson was born in 1915. After graduating from Harvard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, he began working for the Boston Evening Transcript. Later he was a staff reporter at the New York Herald Tribune, the New York Post before joining the New York Times in 1946.
In 1948 Aronson helped establish the National Guardian with Cedric Belfrage and John T. McManus. The newspaper supported the Progressive Party presidential campaign of Henry A. Wallace in 1948. It also provided positive publicity for Vito Marcantonio and the American Labor Party (ALP). The newspaper also campaigned against the convictions of Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg. One of its journalists, William A. Reuben, who wrote many of the articles on the case, later published The Atom Spy Hoax (1954) on the Rosenbergs.
Aronson, the joint-editor of the National Guardian was one of the only newspapers to criticizeJoe McCarthy and McCarthyism. It was also a strong supporter of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1953 Cedric Belfrage was summoned to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). After refusing to name fellow members of the American Communist Party, he was deported back to England in 1955.
After the dissolution of the American Labor Party (ALP), the National Guardian supported the 1958 Independent-Socialist campaign of John T. McManus for New York Governor. McManus only obtained 35,000 votes. The paper remained outside particular party organizations, while continuing to advocate a unified left-wing party in the United States.
In the weeks following the assassination of John F. Kennedy the mainstream media supported the theory that Lee Harvey Oswald had been the lone gunman. Aronson had considerable doubts about this story. In the first edition of the newspaper after the assassination, he used the headline: “The Assassination Mystery: Kennedy and Oswald Killings Puzzle the Nation”.
In his book, Something to Guard: The Stormy Life of the National Guardian: 1948-1967 (1978), Aronson recalled that soon after the assassination he was contacted by a journalist working for the New York Times, who asked him if Oswald subscribed to the National Guardian. Aronson replied he could find no record of Oswald receiving the newspaper. Aronson took this opportunity to raise questions about the newspaper’s investigation into the assassination: “I took advantage of the call to air my doubts about the lone assassin theory being fixed in the public mind. What was the New York Times doing to validate or disapprove this theory?” The journalist replied “Look, Jim, you worked here and you know the answer: don’t look this way – they won’t do it.”
Soon afterwards Aronson "heard that a maverick New York lawyer named Mark Lane had done some careful leg and brain work to produce a thesis casting doubt on the lone-assassin theory – and even whether Oswald had actually been involved in the crime." Aronson contacted Mark Lane who told him that the article had been rejected by thirteen publications. Aronson offered to publish the article. At first Lane hesitated because he was still waiting to hear from two other publications he had sent it to. After they also rejected it, Aronson published the article on 19th December, 1963.
The 10,000 word article was the longest story in its fifteen-year history. It was presented as a lawyer's report to the Warren Commission and titled A Brief for Lee Harvey Oswald . Aronson argued in the introduction: "The Guardian's publication of Lane's brief presumes only one thing: a man's innocence, under US. Law, unless or until proved guilty. It is the right of any accused. A presumption of innocence is the rock upon which American jurisprudence rest... We ask all our readers to study this document… Any information or analysis based on fact that can assist the Warren Commission is in the public interest – an interest which demands that everything possible be done to establish the facts in this case."
Aronson later admitted: "Few issues of the Guardian created such a stir. Anticipating greater interest we had increased the press run by 5,000, but an article in the New York Times about our story brought a heavy demand at the newsstands and dealers were calling for additional copies. Before the month was out we had orders for 50,000 reprints."
Aronson offered the article to both the United Press International and the Associated Press but both agencies rejected it. However, the article was published in several European countries and was discussed in most leading newspapers throughout the world. Some newspapers attempted to rubbish the article by describing it as "left-wing propaganda". Bertrand Russell wrote to The Times complaining about this treatment: "Mr. Lane is no more a left-winger than was President Kennedy. He attempted to publish his evidence… in virtually every established American publication but was unsuccessful. Only the National Guardian was prepared to print his scrupulously documented material... I think it important that no unnecessary prejudice against this valuable work of Mr. Lane should be aroused, so that his data concerning a vital event may be viewed with an open mind by people of all political persuasions."
At first the national press attempted to ignore Lane’s article. The only other publication in the United States that was willing to discuss the issue was the New Republic. In an article published on 21st December, 1963, Jack Minnis and Staughton Lynd, the authors of Seeds of Doubt: Some Questions about the Assassination , raised questions about five different categories of evidence in the case.
In January, 1964, Walter Winchell made a vicious attack on Mark Lane and the National Guardian in his regular newspaper column. He described the newspaper as “a virtual propaganda arm of the Soviet Union” and called Lane an “agitator” seeking to abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee. Aronson was also attacked by those on the left. For example, I. F. Stone, denounced Aronson as being part of the "lunatic fringe".
As well as editing the National Guardian Aronson also worked as a professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York. Aronson was co-author with Cedric Belfrage of Something to Guard: The Stormy Life of the National Guardian: 1948-1967 in 1978.
James Aronson died in 1988.
The Guardian's publication of Lane's brief presumes only one thing: a man's innocence, under US. Law, unless or until proved guilty. It is the right of any accused. A presumption of innocence is the rock upon which American jurisprudence rest... We ask all our readers to study this document… Any information or analysis based on fact that can assist the Warren Commission is in the public interest – an interest which demands that everything possible be done to establish the facts in this case."
Few issues of the Guardian created such a stir. Anticipating greater interest we had increased the press run by 5,000, but an article in the New York Times about our story brought a heavy demand at the newsstands and dealers were calling for additional copies. Before the month was out we had orders for 50,000 reprints.