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.

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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.