Thursday, December 1st, 2022
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Professor Turned Author, Dr. Robert Spicer

Free Speech and False Speech

Being a professor can provide a workload that leads to many finding it difficult to balance other tasks.  Throw in writing a book and the load gets even heavier. That’s exactly what Dr. Robert Spicer, a professor here at Millersville University (MU), did.

“Sometimes the best way to really learn about a topic is to teach about it,” says Spicer, who graduated from MU in 2000 with a degree in speech communications. “Teaching requires you to not just read a lot about a topic but to truly understand it and retain a lot of information about it.”

Titled “Free Speech and False Speech: Political Deception and Its Limits (Or Lack Thereof),” Spicer’s book dives into the history of the legal discourse involving the falsity of political claims and examining whether those falsehoods should receive First Amendment protection. Seeing deception as a key part of the current political landscape, its first chapter focuses on how the administration of President Donald Trump has brought the spotlight on this issue more than ever before.

“The short pitch I give people when they ask about my book is that it’s about political deception and the law,” says Spicer. “Essentially we have a situation where, because of the First Amendment, it is nearly impossible to have any legal ramifications for political deception. This includes straight-up lies.”

Spicer is an assistant professor of digital journalism at Millersville. Having a heavy journalism focus both in and out of the classroom makes the issues featured in his book all the more important to him. It all started long before his time at MU.

“This started in 2004 or 2005 when I taught media law for the first time. In doing research for a lecture I came across a court case from Minnesota where a candidate was found guilty of violating a truth in advertising law that was written to deal with deception in political campaign ads,” says Spicer. “He challenged the law on First Amendment grounds and won. This got me interested in media and communication law in general but specifically in this question about how political deception should be handled under the First Amendment.”

Spicer’s time at MU also had a large impact on his passion for the topic.

“The first time was when Dr. Bill Dorman, who was [Communications] department chair at the time, assigned me to teach media law. That really changed the trajectory of my career,” says Spicer.

Spicer’s book draws on his experience in the classroom, but he hopes the book will also be able to impact his teachings and his students.

“My research makes its way into the classroom all the time. In my Press & Society class I talk about media coverage of politics quite a bit. I also incorporate my experiences with research into my Communication Research class,” says Spicer. “I have also taught our department’s Political Communication and Media Criticism courses, which have plenty of space for discussing the issues covered in my book.”

Spicer spoke on the experience of writing the book, when coupled with teaching full-time as a professor.

“It was a really stressful couple years. I was teaching full-time and writing my dissertation. It was a time-consuming process and pretty stressful. Writing a book is a lot of work,” says Spicer. “But it was also very rewarding. I’m proud of having accomplished it and I’m looking forward to getting my second book out in the next year or so.”

Spicer’s book is available both in print and digitally at most major retailers.

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