The one thing about the SpinWatch editor and Strathclyde University Professor David Miller that stands out above all others. And that is that he always goes along with whatever delusion the media is selling. Has any man ever been so willingly spun this way and that? Whether it is the ‘aids epidemic’, ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia, ‘genocide’ in Rwanda, ‘media violence’ and video nasties, law and order, the ‘BSE plague’, the supposed dangers of ‘Frankenfood’, the threat posed by MMR, or corruption in parliament – Miller has bought into every panic. Far from studying the media critically, Miller parrots every crank newspaper panic without thinking. He is the Strathclyde Professor of tabloid ranting, wrong about everything, but never once going back to try and work out why, just blustering on to the next received opinion.
Still, when you look at Miller’s research grants, you can see that going along with the panic of the day has been a lucrative business. His funding applications show a bloodhound’s sense for ‘following the money’:
1989-1992 AIDS Media Research Project, funded by the ESRC AIDS programme
But media analyst Miller missed the main story, that the government had exaggerated the risk of AIDS. Instead, he argues that AIDS education is an instance where spinning the truth is justified (Message Received, p 30)
1992-1994 Food Panics in the Media project funded by the ESRC Nation’s Diet Initiatives
Miller concluded that the threat of contracting ‘human BSE’ (CJD) led people to distrust official sources (Message Received, p 139). But in fact there was no such threat. The CJD epidemic was an hysterical panic that never appeared.
1996-1998 Media and Expert Constructions of Risk Project funded by the ESRC Risk Programme
Around this time Miller was actively promoting a media panic over Video Nasties, and then crime more generally. His central contribution was to call into question the whole notion of a ‘moral panic’, that is to make ‘risk’ a natural not a social category.
1998-2001 Political Communication and Democracy’, Funded by the ESRC ‘Media Culture and Media Economics’ Programme.
This was the point that Miller started to get out of media analysis and into political sociology, by coat-tailing the ‘cash-for-questions’ media storm.
1999-2001 Political Communication and the Scottish Parliament funded by the ESRC Devolution programme.
‘The new constitutional settlement of 1999, we thought, might herald a moment … of new solutions to the need for wide engagement in democracy at the Scottish level’, thought Miller, naively (Open Scotland, 2001, vii). But ten years later he bemoaned that ‘the tentacles of corporate Scotland stretch into every institution of the state’ (Neoliberal Scotland, 2010, p 116)
2001 Global Media Monitoring Project coordinated by the World Association of Christian Communication
A cynical boilerplate piece of media analysis of images of women structured for no other purpose than to shake money out of the church tree.
2000-2003 Corporate Public Relations in British and Multinational companies, funded by the ESRC.
This was the grant that Miller put into his own private company, the ironically named, Public Interest Investigations.
2003 and 2004 Miller got money both from the Scottish TUC and the Water Customer Consultation Panels in Scotland.
In 2004, an unexplained grant of £45,000 from the Scottish Executive, to this unremitting critic of Holyrood spin and corruption – around the same time that he was accusing First Minster Jack McConnell of profiting from a £1.5 million PR campaign to promote Scottish fisheries. ‘The tentacles of corporate Scotland’ stretch far indeed.
In 2007 Miller was again caning funds from the ESRC, this time to research ‘environmental advocacy’.
2008 Miller cadged £4,500 from the public service workers’ union Unison to ‘review public services’, and again got more from the ESRC to investigate the use of the Freedom of Information Act – with the support of the Scottish Information Commissioner.
In 2009 Miller was raiding the funds of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council for work on ‘science communication’ (this from a man who thinks that the Royal Society is a sinister conspiracy).
At the same time the ecumenical Miller got more funding from the ESRC in a project in partnership with the Scottish-Islamic Foundation, and £12,000 from a workgroup on teaching about terrorism.
Miller’s true talents are in playing whatever anxiety is going, the better to raid the public purse.