The Grey Cardigan 16.02.2007

I DREAD to think how many times I've had to defend The Sun at precious, pompous, middle-class dinner parties.

I can see it coming a mile off these days. No sooner has the monkfish in pancetta on a bed of polenta been cleared away than someone will try to stimulate conversation by mentioning a risible Daily Express Diana lead, someone else will chip in with a serious point about that morning's Daily Mail splash (even though it was equally risible) and before you know where you are, Uncle Rupert is getting a bucketload poured all over him by the assembled ciabattaring classes.

I try to keep quiet, honestly I do. But after five minutes of unthinking, uninformed, sneeringly illogical blathering, I find myself clearing my throat and entering the fray. (Meanwhile, under the table, Mrs Cardigan is hacking viciously at my shins.)

I start gently, pointing out the unassailable fact that The Sun is the biggest-selling daily newspaper in the country. I chuck in the News of the World's Sunday dominance for good measure. I then extend this argument by declaring that those newspapers are therefore more important in terms of influence than any of the once-broadsheets. We then move on to the genius of Kelvin MacKenzie and his ability to tap into the national psyche.

It is when I explain that if it wasn't for Wapping, our national press would be immeasurably poorer in terms of quantity and quality, that things get a bit heated. The host has a face like that blind bloke who opened boxes for 30 episodes on Deal Or No Deal? only to end up with a tenner when it was his turn in the hot seat.

The sole Independent reader, a bloke with a nut allergy down the end of the table who's been trying unsuccessfully to introduce to the conversation that day's poster Page One about the impact of Iranian nuclear escalation on Ecuadorian sheep farmers, is almost apoplectic at the idea that he owes his daily idiosyncrasy to the Murdoch Empire.

I usually close by asking my fellow diners how many of them take The Sunday Times or subscribe to Sky, and then watch the two Guardian readers present (vegans; they just ate the polenta) slowly fume over their FairTrade coffee. Then I get my coat.

Unfortunately, I had no dinner invitations last weekend (for some reason they seem to have dried up), which was a great shame, because armed with Tom Newton Dunn's magnificent exclusive of the cockpit videotape from the friendly fire incident, I'd have been home before the starters arrived and in plenty of time for Dancing On Ice.

JUST A thought, but if the aforementioned Mr Newton Dunn had bugged the voicemail messages of a senior MoD official as a means of breaking the story, would his editor have been sacked and would he now be facing a stretch in the nick for his pains?

I don't think so. So it's worth remembering that when they come after us for bending the rules in pursuit of mere frippery, they'll also hinder us when we're trying to do our democratic duty. Perhaps we're back to the situation where the perceived quality of the information gained is the only justification for the means. They used to call it "public interest". We will call it the Goodman Test.

THE SMARTARSE column of The Guardian's letters page recently hosted an unfunny punathon on the subject of envelopes, leading one clever dick to write: "Has the correspondence on envelopes folded, or will it be back in a Jiffy?"

Unfortunate, perhaps, when your page 3 lead is about the seven letter bombs sent in Jiffy bags to various organisations around the country.

IT'S NOT all sweetness and light at Wapping. The Sun's letter-writing snout weighs in with an "exclusive" page lead about Rose West wanting to buy some size 20 sexy underwear — presumably the kind of thing usually only seen on pregnant TV weather girls. So does this story pass the Goodman Test? You decide.

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