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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Something is missing from the Brexit debate

Inside Westminster, few seem to have noticed or care about the biggest question mark in the Brexit talks. 

What do we know about the government’s Brexit strategy that we didn’t before? Not much, to be honest.

Theresa May has now said explicitly what her red lines on European law and free movement of labour said implicitly: that Britain is leaving the single market. She hasn’t ruled out continuing payments from Britain to Brussels, but she has said that they won’t be “vast”. (Much of the detail of Britain’s final arrangement is going to depend on what exactly “vast” means.)  We know that security co-operation will, as expected, continue after Brexit.

What is new? It’s Theresa May’s threat to the EU27 that Britain will walk away from a bad deal and exit without one that dominates the British newspapers.

“It's May Way or the Highway” quips City AM“No deal is better than a bad deal” is the Telegraph’s splash, “Give us a deal… or we walk” is the Mirror’s. The Guardian opts for “May’s Brexit threat to Europe”,  and “May to EU: give us fair deal or you’ll be crushed” is the Times’ splash.

The Mail decides to turn the jingoism up to 11 with “Steel of the new Iron Lady” and a cartoon of Theresa May on the white cliffs of Dover stamping on an EU flag. No, really.  The FT goes for the more sedate approach: “May eases Brexit fears but warns UK will walk away from 'bad deal’” is their splash.

There’s a lot to unpack here. The government is coming under fire for David Davis’ remark that even if Parliament rejects the Brexit deal, we will leave anyway. But as far as the Article 50 process is concerned, that is how it works. You either take the deal that emerges from the Article 50 process or have a disorderly exit. There is no process within exiting the European Union for a do-over.  

The government’s threat to Brussels makes sense from a negotiating perspective. It helps the United Kingdom get a better deal if the EU is convinced that the government is willing to suffer damage if the deal isn’t to its liking. But the risk is that the damage is seen as so asymmetric – and while the direct risk for the EU27 is bad, the knock-on effects for the UK are worse – that the threat looks like a bad bluff. Although European leaders have welcomed the greater clarity, Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator, has reiterated that their order of priority is to settle the terms of divorce first, agree a transition and move to a wider deal after that, rather than the trade deal with a phased transition that May favours.

That the frontpage of the Irish edition of the Daily Mail says “May is wrong, any deal is better than no deal” should give you an idea of how far the “do what I want or I shoot myself” approach is going to take the UK with the EU27. Even a centre-right newspaper in Britain's closest ally isn't buying that Britain will really walk away from a bad deal. 

Speaking of the Irish papers, there’s a big element to yesterday’s speech that has eluded the British ones: May’s de facto abandonment of the customs union and what that means for the border between the North and the South. “May’s speech indicates Border customs controls likely to return” is the Irish Times’ splash, “Brexit open border plan “an illusion”” is the Irish Independent’s, while “Fears for jobs as ‘hard Brexit’ looms” is the Irish Examiner’s.

There is widespread agreement in Westminster, on both sides of the Irish border and in the European Union that no-one wants a return to the borders of the past. The appetite to find a solution is high on all sides. But as one diplomat reflected to me recently, just because everyone wants to find a solution, doesn’t mean there is one to be found. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.