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.

Getty Images.
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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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