O’Sullivan’s Law states that any organization or enterprise that is not expressly right wing will become left wing over time. The law is named after British journalist John O’Sullivan, who cites as proof the ACLU, the Ford Foundation and the Episcopal Church.
He could have cited Law & Order too, NBC’s long running arrest-and-trial television show that has just been canceled after 21 years on the air. Many may not remember, but when the show began, it was not only excellent, it was also, if not conservative, at least complex in its worldview. Early episodes took hard looks at liberal laws that prohibited the use of valid evidence against criminals (“Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die”); politically correct excuses that hid dirty motives for murder (“Prisoner of Love”); and even a Tawana Brawley style hoax in which a black girl wrongly accused white police officers of rape (“Out of the Half-Light.”). When conservative actor Michael Moriarty played ADA Ben Stone—and even for a while after liberal Sam Waterson took over as ADA Jack McCoy—the L&O prosecutor’s office was less concerned with parsing PC verities than with putting away bad guys.
All that changed over time. In its later seasons, episodes of Law & Order that were supposed to be “ripped from the headlines,” in fact rewrote the headlines to imitate leftist fantasies. Conservative speakers on campus caused violence rather than suffered it, Christian girls were stoned for dating Muslims rather than the other way around, evangelicals murdered people rather than fighting desperately for their right to life. It was, in the end, the world turned upside down to suit the left’s agenda.
Why does that happen? Why did the same process overtake 24 as it is now undermining House and as it ultimately seems to destroy any show with half an ounce of conservative realism to it? Why does TV specifically seem a veritable laboratory of O’Sullivan’s Law in action?
Well, I can think of three reasons off hand.
One, the nature of writers. Writers live in and work out of our imaginations where moral hazards and consequences can be dreamed away. When we fail to test our visions against life as it is lived, it becomes easy for us to fall prey to the leftist ideas that the world is perfectible and that good intentions equal virtue. As a show’s original creator cedes more and more control of scripts to the writers’ room, the O’Sullivan effect naturally takes place.
Two, lefty intolerance versus right-wing tolerance. It rarely fails. Right wingers are consistently willing to hire openly left-wing employees. Left-wingers will not allow a right-winger anywhere near them. The result over time is that conservative enterprises are infiltrated by lefties, but leftist enterprises remain the same.
Three: leftism is in and of itself a form of decay. It’s what happens not just to television shows but to nations, churches and universities as the energy given off by the big bang of their inception slowly ebbs away to nothing. Rather than expend vitality in originality and creation, they become obsessed with issues of conservation and equality and ultimately become wholly still and dead.
There may not be a fix for this, not in television anyway. Things have their natural lifespan and leftism may simply be the way they die. Good shows might, however, keep their vitality yet a little while longer if their creators kept O’Sullivan’s Law in mind, and declared their intent from the beginning: not the intent to be conservative, just the intent to tell the truth. Conservatism would naturally follow.