ANN ARBOR, Mich. - George Clooney's new movie, Good Night and Good Luck tells the story of the epic confrontation between newsman Edward R. Murrow and U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy, the drunken demagogue.
Filmed in rich black and white, and stunningly loyal to the facts as they unfolded in 1953-54, it has drawn impressive reviews. The story is well known. At great personal risk - and with very nervous backing from CBS - Mr. Murrow took on Mr. McCarthy, allowing the senator to hang himself with his own words and deeds.
The See It Now program turned the tide. Within months, the Senate censured Mr. McCarthy; stripped of influence, he swiftly drank himself to death.
Edward R. Murrow and his producer, Fred Friendly, admitted freely that none of this would have been possible without a little man from Michigan who was an innocent victim of the Red Scare.
That man, Milo Radulovich, appears in Good Night and Good Luck, as does his sister, Margaret Fishman, in brief clips from the show Mr. Murrow did on him, five months before taking on Mr. McCarthy.
Though most of the people in the movie are long dead - Mr. McCarthy in 1957, Mr. Murrow in 1965 - Milo and Margaret are alive and well and thrilled with the movie. "What this all proves is that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance," Mr. Radulovich said in a telephone interview from Sacramento.
"It's hard for young people today to know what that time was like," Ms. Fishman said, sighing.
The case itself was stark in its injustice. Milo Radulovich was a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, who was trying to complete a physics degree at the University of Michigan. He had a wife, two jobs, two daughters, and a full class load. One day, there was a knock at the door, as he was changing a diaper.
Two officers were there to demand he resign from the service, forfeiting his rank, pay, and benefits. Why? Nobody questioned his loyalty. But his father, an immigrant from Montenegro, read a newspaper from the old country, which by then was Communist (although, ironically, opposed the Soviet Union.)
His sister, Margaret, had been a secretary at the Yugoslav embassy, and was a left-wing peace activist who also protested against segregation.
In other words, he was being ruined because of his family. Many lawyers refused to take the case, and an Air Force officer who took pity on him had some advice: "Just denounce your family and you'll be fine."
That made Milo angry. Eventually, Fred Friendly, Mr. Murrow's producer, read newspaper stories about the case. "He said this could be that 'perfect little picture' of what the climate of terror did to people," said Mike Ranville, author of To Strike at a King, the best book about the case.
Mr. Murrow dispatched film crews to the Ann Arbor suburb of Dexter and did a See it Now episode on the case. It showed townspeople rallying to his defense; his father, a proud naturalized citizen, defending his patriotism in broken English.
Within weeks, the U.S. Air Force, probably at the urging of President Eisenhower, backed down and exonerated Milo.
Emboldened, the See It Now crew swung into action. Half a century later, Mike Ranville sent a copy of his book to George Clooney, after Milo saw the actor talking about McCarthyism on TV.
The years after his vindication weren't that easy. His shy wife suffered deeply from the strain, and demanded they leave Michigan before Milo finished his degree. His father, who was deeply affected by an ordeal he never quite understood, died within a year.
Milo's marriage collapsed anyway, at least partly because of the stress caused by the case. Milo, who had always wanted to be a weather forecaster, found that despite the exoneration, his name was still on a blacklist.
Eventually, he got a job and, a decade later, was finally hired by the National Weather Service, where he ended his career working in Lansing.
But Mr. Radulovich never got the rank or pay he deserved, Mr. Ranville said, because he had left school one semester before finishing. For years, friends have been lobbying the University of Michigan to give him a degree, so far without success.
The movie does give Margaret and Milo some satisfaction. They both still worry about this country. They were alarmed by the Patriot Act. "There are some things that cause concern today," Mr. Radulovich said. "We have to keep our eyes open and stay informed."
Thanks to a few brave people like him, we still can.
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