This was a political show trial, and partisans of Joe Wilson will use the guilty verdict to declare vindication. ~James Taranto

Needless to say, perhaps, Fox’s Alan Colmes did a pathetic job of challenging Coulter’s flimsy defense. The whole segment was a show trial in reverse. ~Michael Crowley

I don’t know whether this represents some sort of trend in atrocious uses of language, but it is interesting that both of these ridiculous statements appeared on the same day.  The first refers, of course, to the Libby conviction, and the other to an appearance by Ann Coulter on Hannity & Colmes

You can believe that Fitzgerald’s prosecution was driven by political or personal vendetta, as some would like to believe, and you can believe that this case should never have been brought to trial.  I disagree fundamentally with both of these views, since I think that obstructing justice and perjury are wrong regardless of why someone does it (lots of Republicans used to believe the same thing) and that such crimes should be prosecuted if the charges can be proven, but it is possible to hold these other views without becoming a squawking buffoon.  James Taranto, as usual, bounds across that line and never looks back when he calls this a “political show trial,” demonstrating either his tremendous ignorance or his utter corruption of mind.   

A political show trial has a very definite meaning.  These were trials conducted during the Purges of the 1930s whose outcomes were predetermined by the Party and Stalin and therefore whose entire procedure was purely for “show.”  Hence the name.  (Incidentally, Republicans were very eager to talk about ”purges” during the Connecticut Senate primary last year, invoking a word chiefly associated with Bolshevik terror in the context of a domestic election, once again showing themselves to be unfit to comment on anything.)  These trials had no logic or purpose, except to provide a certain veneer of public legitimacy for the deposition of prominent Party men (including top figures such as Zinoviev and Kamenev) that paved the way for their exile, execution and elimination from the historical record.  Unless I have misunderstood the sentences for violations of federal perjury and obstruction of justice statutes, Libby does not stand in much danger of summary execution by NKVD operatives or their equivalent.  He has not been fraudulently charged with crimes he didn’t commit as a way of covering up a purely political prosecution.  The court will not “request” his suicide, nor will his picture be artificially scrubbed out from all official records.  Indeed, we all know that he is going to go scot-free with a pardon, because we are not ruled by laws but by particularly venal and self-serving men, so please spare me the whinging about how Libby is the victim of neo-Stalinist jurisprudence.  This is not only an insult to the millions of victims of Stalinism, but is an insult to the intelligence of the audience.  It is also particularly rich to read complaints about politicised justice coming from the pages of the right’s Pravda, which never thinks that anything the administration does in matters of national security or other policy is as heavily politicised as it obviously is. 

Now to the other example.  While I might theoretically enjoy comparisons of Hannity & Colmes to Stalinist purges, if only to show the relatively greater intellectual integrity of the latter, when someone is silly enough to refer to a cable talk show as a show trial, whether it is in “reverse” or not, it becomes immediately clear how wrong this use of language is.  Most of us do not, I think, make pithy comparisons between certain things we happen to dislike and, say, concentration camps, gas chambers or mass graves.  You don’t usually hear someone say, “Boy, this week’s Meet The Press was a sort of journalistic Kristallnacht–only in reverse!”  I leave it to my readers to puzzle out what “show trial in reverse” even means, but I think it prompts the promulgation of Larison’s First Law of Political Commentary (not to be confused with the Laws of Foreign Policy Commentary): unless you are referring specifically to a contemporary case of politically motivated kangaroo courts that serve as a pretext for the exile and/or execution of political enemies, you never get to compare anything in present-day domestic politics to a show trial; first-time violators should be prohibited from speaking about domestic politics for a period of not less than ten years; repeat offenders are banned for life.