Take that, Bill O'Reilly. The proudly opinionated Fox anchor has declared the American Civil Liberties Union ''a terrorist group" and said, ''Hitler would be a card-carrying member." To fight back, the ACLU has enlisted its own TV polemicist.
Court TV today begins airing the group's collaboration with filmmaker Robert Greenwald, a 10-part series patriotically dubbed ''The Freedom Files."This time, it's the ACLU's turn to wrap itself in the flag, and to collect its own celebrity endorsements: If you like Richard Belzer, you'll love his take on liberty.
Greenwald serves as executive producer, and his point of view is easy to guess; he directed the anti-Rupert-Murdoch film ''Outfoxed," in addition to documentaries skewering
Future episodes will take on such issues as drug policy, racial profiling, and the Patriot Act. Today's installment, premiering at noon, focuses on religious freedom.
The main point, drummed in repeatedly, is that the ACLU -- so vilified for its fights against public creches at Christmastime -- actually protects religious people, too. We meet a recent high school graduate who sued because her school sliced a Bible quote from her yearbook profile, a nurse who wanted to wear a cross on her lapel, a Catholic unhappily sentenced to a Pentecostal drug treatment center. Even the citizens who fought the Dover, Pa., school board over ''intelligent design" are revealed to be active members of their churches. They love God. They just love sanity more.
So they go, one after the other, in a parade that feels a bit dizzying. With its ample use of split screens and odd fade effects, the film sometimes comes off as if someone was playing with the functions on a new video camera.
But a bigger problem, from an effectiveness standpoint, is the show's one-sidedness. Court TV, with its ''Pursuit of Justice" programming umbrella, says it aims to spark debate on controversial issues. And in the face of some fairly absurd attacks, it's not surprising that the ACLU wanted to fight back hard.
But the most effective way to make a point is to hear out the other side, too. ''The Freedom Files" doesn't take a breath to consider an opposing point of view. Given how loudly it preaches to the choir, it risks alienating anyone who doesn't agree.
Then again, O'Reilly has never much cared about that, and his ratings don't seem to have suffered. It seems TV is increasingly going the way of the blogosphere: Everyone gets his own soapbox, the better to shout to the believers.
Joanna Weiss can be reached at email@example.com.