Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Radulovich's brave stand helped end McCarthy witch hunt

ANN ARBOR - Milo Radulovich, who died Monday, told me that he was changing a diaper when the event happened that altered his life and, eventually, this nation's history.

He was, in the fall of 1953, a physics major at the University of Michigan, taking a full load, driving a cab, and struggling to make it on the GI bill with a wife and two kids. He had joined the Air Force while a teenager, during World War II, and served as an intelligence officer.

Without a college degree, he had made it to first lieutenant. Yet now, two servicemen were at his front door with bad news. The U.S. Air Force was booting him out as a security risk.

No, his loyalty wasn't in question. But he was guilty of maintaining a "close and continuing" relationship with his father and sister. His father, a Serbian immigrant who worked in an auto plant, subscribed to a newspaper from the old country that was published by the communists. (Not surprising, since Yugoslavia was then a communist country.) His sister Margaret was a left-wing type. Why, she had even marched to protest racial segregation.

So Milo Radulovich's choice was clear: Denounce his father and sister, and everything would be fine. Years later he told me "I wasn't interested in politics. I didn't even know my sister's phone number. I wanted to be a weather forecaster."

But no good Serbian boy was about to denounce his family. So he fought it, as best he could, though everyone told him he didn't have a chance. He got some press coverage in Detroit.

And one day Fred Friendly took the clippings into Edward R. Murrow, the most respected television journalist of the time. "Ed," he said, "I think we have the perfect little picture we need," to get at U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy.

McCarthy (R., Wis.) had nothing to do with Milo. But his anti-Communist witch hunt had instilled a climate of fear in this country. Murrow did a See It Now show on the unfairness of the case. The Air Force reinstated Mr. Radulovich, probably at the urging of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Five months later, See It Now took on McCarthy directly. The demagogue self-destructed on camera. Within a year he had been censured by the Senate; three years later, he drank himself to death.

The cloud began to lift. But all wasn't rosy for Mr. Radulovich. His wife had been devastated by the ordeal. The family left Ann Arbor a semester before he finished his degree. They ultimately divorced. He was blacklisted from many jobs. Eventually, he did get a job with the National Weather Service, but his lack of a degree hindered him.

He was largely forgotten, (except for a few journalists like me) until a lobbyist named Mike Ranville wrote a book, To Strike At a King, about Mr. Radulovich's ordeal and importance.

That book helped inspire George Clooney to do the movie, Good Night and Good Luck, which dealt in part with Mr. Radulovich's story.

In his old age, Milo Radulovich was rediscovered. He was modest, kindly, a bit bearish, and gruff. "Aw, nobody cares about all that stuff," he used to say, a bit delighted that someone did care.

Usually he came back to Michigan once a year, around this time, for Thanksgiving with his family and to nibble the molasses cookies from the Dexter bakery that he still loved.

This year, however, he had a massive stroke in May at his home in Lodi, Calif. He fought hard, but he died on Monday.

A few years ago, I had him speak to a large group of journalism students. He told them he saw parallels between McCarthyism and what was going on in the United States post-9/11.

"You'd have to be blind not to see the parallels," he said. "Everything that is happening now brings back a lot of memories."

He told my students he still had faith in America, but added "We have to keep our eyes open and stay informed."

I don't think he ever realized how much his brave stand a long time ago did to make sure we still can.

Michigan Primary Update: The Michigan Supreme Court has long been accused of having a four-member majority block that is a rubber-stamp for the right wing of the GOP.

Earlier this month, a circuit and an appellate court said Michigan's new presidential primary was clearly unconstitutional. That was because it specified that lists of who voted in each party's primary would be supplied to the major parties - and only the parties.

The lower courts said that was an outrageous abuse. Yet on Friday, the Michigan Supreme Court's "Gang of Four" reinstated the Jan. 15 primary on a 4-3 vote. "Political parties unquestionably serve a public purpose," the unsigned majority opinion said.

But in a strong dissent, Justice Michael Cavanagh, joined by fellow Democrat Marilyn Kelly and Republican Elizabeth Weaver, said the very idea of supplying voter lists to political parties adversely affects the purity of elections and creates an unfair advantage," and "strikes me as an abuse of the elective process."

Now, thanks to Justices Clifford Taylor, Maura Corrigan, Stephen Markman, and Robert Young, who almost always vote in lock-step, Michigan is going to do just that.

Jack Lessenberry, a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and The Blade's ombudsman, writes on issues and people in Michigan.

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