Anatomy of a cock-up: how the People's fake Roger Moore interview made it to New Zealand

Featuring a cameo from Mail Online.

The Sunday People's apology for a Roger Moore interview which never happened has been spread far and wide:

On 16 September we published an article headed “I’ve had Moore women than James Bond” which claimed that Sir Roger Moore had recently spoken exclusively to The People and made comments to our journalist about his private life.

We now accept that Sir Roger did not give an interview to our reporter and did not make the comments that were reported in the headline.

We apologise for any distress and embarrassment our article has caused to Sir Roger Moore and we have agreed to pay him damages and legal costs.

But what also spread far and wide was the "interview" itself. That's not quite so good, given it didn't actually happen.

Firstly, it appears the Daily Mail lifted the interview — rewriting a piece from another newspaper as a news story of their own, usually not crediting the original source in the process. Since we know the encounter between Moore and the People's journalist never actually happened, they must not have checked with Moore or anyone involved with him. Instead, they appeared to have directly re-printed quotes from the now-removed People piece.

The Mail piece is also down, though. So how do we know it existed? Because the Australian Associated Press picked it up, and syndicated it out as news to its subscribers. And those stories are still up.

Take this one, from New Zealand's Otago Daily Times:

British actor Roger Moore says he has bedded more beauties than the suave, sophisticated and fictional spy who made him famous.

The four-time married 84-year-old who played James Bond for 12 years in seven films, told Britain's Daily Mail he was more suited to the phrase: "Moore ... Roger More" than his on-screen persona's famous introductory line "Bond ... James Bond".

"I've always been a hit with the ladies," Moore said.

"I couldn't possibly say how many I've been out with because I'm a gentleman. But more importantly, I just haven't kept count. I've had more women than James Bond. It was always `Moore ... Roger More'."

Moore didn't actually say any of that, of course. It all seems to have been taken from the retracted interview. But that doesn't stop the 49 news sites which have reprinted that exact quote, word for word, punctuation for punctuation. As for the headline claim — that he said "I've had more women than James Bond" — 216 places have carried the claim.

When it comes to best journalistic practices, this is obviously an argument for doing your own research. But if nothing else, it's an argument for actually making the most of the fact that the internet, unlike paper, lets you link back to your sources, so that you — and readers — can notice if you've used a claim which has since been retracted.

If nothing else, it helps avoid embarrassing mess-ups like this.

The one thing we still don't know is why the Sunday People ran the interview in the first place. Were they duped by a fake Moore or a bad freelancer? Or were they the dupers, hoping that no-one involved with Moore would notice?

Roger Moore, smouldering. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.