Ruben Salazar -

Man in the Middle
Educator Guide
90-120 minutes + Assignments
Grade Level: 9-12
Subject Areas:
Social Studies, US History, Latina/o Studies, Media Studies, Journalism, Civics
Class Time: 90 to 120 minutes + Assignments
Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle, is an investigative look at the life and mysterious
death of pioneering journalist Ruben Salazar. At the heart of the story is Salazar's
transformation from a mainstream, establishment reporter to primary chronicler and
supporter of the radical Chicano movement of the late 1960s. Killed under mysterious
circumstances by a law enforcement officer in 1970, Salazar became an instant martyr
to Latinos - many of whom had criticized his reporting during his lifetime. Adding to the
Salazar mystique is that the details of how he was killed have been obscured in the
ensuing four decades since his death.
Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle reveals the truth about the pioneering journalist's life
and death, removing him from the shadows of legend and restoring him to his rightful
place in history. The Salazar story had long been considered to be an ethnic story, a
regional story," says filmmaker Rodriguez. "But it is much bigger than that. This is a
story about a regular guy who, motivated by principle, challenges an abusive authority
at great risk to himself - it's a classic American story."
Students will:
● Learn about the life and journalism of Ruben Salazar
● Consider the principles of journalistic objectivity and advocacy journalism and the
social, economic, and political factors that contribute to journalistic bias
● Examine the current state of journalism and the role that objectivity and bias play in
Analytical viewing
Interpreting information and drawing informed conclusions
Thinking critically about commonly-presented historical narratives
Stating and supporting opinions in class discussions and in writing
Working collaboratively
Film module: Man in the Middle (Total time 13:28 minutes)
Student Handout A: Who is Ruben Salazar?
Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle (full film):
Computers with Internet access
LCD projector
Whiteboard or blackboard
Pen and writing paper
Time: 30 Minutes
Summary: Students will examine the concept of “objectivity” and develop working
definitions for the term. They will begin to consider and discuss the role of objectivity in
journalism, if it is an achievable (or desirable) goal and the ways that personal
perspective and preconceptions can lead to bias. In preparation for viewing the film
module, the activity will conclude with a brief introduction to the concept of New
● Write the word objectivity on the board and ask students to think about what it
means to be “objective”. Instruct the class to free-write for one or two minutes about
“objectivity” using the following prompts: Have you heard the term before – if so, in
what context? What does it mean to you?
● Ask students to share their thoughts with a partner and together, create a working
definition for the term.
● Invite volunteers to share their definitions. Using the responses from the students,
develop a collective definition. Have volunteers look-up formal definitions in the
dictionary and refine the class definition, as needed.
● Ask students to give examples of circumstances where we would expect to behave
with objectivity? Record their responses and discuss. Follow-up by focusing the
discussion on journalism:
o Do we expect journalists to be objective? Why or why not?
o In your opinion, how objective is the news you watch, read, or hear?
o What are some factors that could impact a reporter’s ability to report
objectively? (e.g. class, race, gender, connection to the community being
reported on, the prejudice of sources and witnesses, the culture in the
newsroom, economic and political pressures, etc.)
Note: Record the responses to this question on the board to refer to later
in the lesson.
o Do you believe it possible for journalists to be objective? Why or why not?
o Is it a good idea for journalists to try to achieve “journalistic objectivity”?
What would be the alternative?
● Explain:
In the 1950’s and 60’s, many journalists were beginning to ask the same
questions that we are discussing today. The civil rights movement challenged the
status quo and brought to the fore the ongoing national debate over racial,
economic, and gender-based discrimination in all areas of public life. The principle
of journalistic objectivity also came under harsh scrutiny from activists and
journalists who questioned the neutrality of a press populated almost entirely by
white men.
The journalist Ruben Salazar came to prominence during this period. He became
a trailblazer in a new style of advocacy and civic journalism that requires the
journalist to immerse her/himself in the story and clearly declare her/his agenda
and non-objective point of view in the interest of positive social change.
● Distribute Student Handout A: Who is Ruben Salazar?, and have students review
the brief summary on Ruben Salazar’s life and career in preparation for viewing the
film module. (Tip: If class time is limited, this handout can be distributed in advance
of the lesson as homework.)
Time: 30 Minutes
Film Module: Man in the Middle
You will need: Computers with Internet access, multimedia projector, writing paper,
Summary: Students will view the film modules and make note of quotes and moments
that resonate with the group discussion on journalistic objectivity and bias.
● Instruct students to be active viewers while the screening the film module and to
make note of any quotes, scenes, or events that relate to the group discussion from
Activity 1, using the following prompts:
o What are Ruben Salazar and his colleagues’ attitudes toward objectivity in
o What types of bias does Salazar encounter when pursuing stories?
o How is Salazar’s style of reporting different from his colleagues?
o What is the reaction to his approach to journalism?
● Discuss their notes and feedback after the film and ask them for specific instances
from the film that speak to the themes of objectivity and bias.
● What surprised you most when you watched the module?
● What are some factors that contributed to journalistic bias in the newsroom where
Ruben Salazar worked?
● Ruben Salazar covered the Denver Youth Conference in 1969. What was his
attitude toward the participants at the conference? Do you think Salazar’s own
experiences and perceptions biased his perception of the event and people who
attended? Why or why not? Can you give examples?
● What was the turning point for Salazar?
● Did his approach to reporting change? In what way?
● What did Salazar mean when he said that it was “foolish to think we could melt into
the mythical melting pot”? Do you agree with him? Why/why not?
● How did his attitude to assimilation change?
● How did television reporting change the impact of his work?
● What was the reaction of his Hispanic audience? How did he feel about their
response? Why do you think he enjoyed the hate mail?
● Why did Salazar’s approach to reporting the killing of the Sanchez brothers upset
the establishment? What did the police mean when they said that the information he
was reporting was “dangerous” to the minds of the residents of the barrio?
● What was at the heart of Ruben Salazar’s journalistic ethics?
● Do you agree that freedom of speech is limited?
● If Ruben Salazar was alive today, what opinion do you think he would have of
contemporary journalism?
Time: 30-60 Minutes
Summary: Using the film module and Ruben Salazar’s own journey as a springboard,
students will examine the current state of journalism and the role that objectivity and
bias play in reporting.
● Explain that the debate over journalistic objectivity and ethical reporting that Ruben
Salazar engaged in during his career, is still alive today. Working in groups we will
examine the current state of journalism by looking at a news story through the lens
of several news sources.
● Divide the class into research groups and ask each group to select a current affairs
story to investigate. (Students can identify their own story or a list of options can be
● Instruct each group to identify news stories on their topic from 3-5 different sources
(including different media platforms such as TV news, newspapers, magazines,
blogs, etc.) and compare contrast their reporting of the story. Use the following
prompts to guide their research:
o What aspects of the reporting are facts, what is opinion, and what is
o Does the story have an agenda, and if so, what is it?
o Is the reporter transparent about her/his opinion on the issue, or does
she/he take an “objective” position?
o How does the presentation of facts differ in each news source?
● Ask the students to research the reporter and the news outlet to better understand
if/how the story was influenced by the values, perspectives or interests of the
individuals and institutions reporting on it.
● Each group can present their findings to the class, or groups can pair-up and share
their research and conclusions in peer-to-peer discussions.
● Conclude the lesson with a class discussion:
o What surprised you most during this lesson?
o Did your understanding of or opinion about journalism change during the
lesson? In what way?
o Do you think journalism has changed since Ruben Salazar was a
reporter? Can you give some examples?
o If Ruben Salazar was alive today, how do you think he would have
reported on this issue?
1) Assign students to reflect on their group research and consider how they would
report on the issue. Ask them to imagine that they are reporters and write an article on
the issue (they can support their writing with additional research). If time allows,
students can write two articles: one in the style of “objective” journalism, and one in the
style of advocacy journalism.
2) Assign students to write a one-page reflection on an opinion they hold on a different
issue, and how they would keep that opinion or bias out of their reporting and writing.
For instance, an opinion about climate change, could impact a story on legislation to
limit carbon emissions. Students should be diligent about accurately and fully reflecting
both sides of an issue and sticking to the facts to help avoid writing a biased story.
● Assimilation and Identity: Screen the full film and discuss how pressure to
assimilate shaped Ruben Salazar’s identity and his approach to his work. How did
his position as a “man in the middle” benefit and harm him?
o Engage the class in a discussion of Salazar’s quote: “There's no such
thing as a real Mexican-American, the hyphen strips both words of their
meaning”? Ask students to consider their relationship to the American
identity. Do the students’ own identities include a “hyphen”? Do they see a
multifaceted identity as a positive or a negative? Does the “hyphen”
diminish or strengthen either identity? What does it mean to be
o Have students research the role that assimilation has played in their
community. What impact has assimilation had in their family, school, and
the way they see themselves? Students can interview members of the
community, peers, and family members and develop a multi-media
presentation that illustrates their findings.
● Ruben Salazar was at the forefront of the rise of ethnic journalism. In April 1970, he
left his full-time reporting gig for a job as news director of KMEX, a fledgling
Spanish-language TV station, staying on at The Times’ in the new role of part-time
columnist. While many questioned the seemingly downward career move,
Salazar’s KMEX position allowed him to provide news about Latinos for Latinos.
Today, ethnic journalism and media are major forces in the media landscape.
Networks like Telemundo and Black Entertainment Television reach millions of
viewers and Univision regularly challenges and surpasses viewership of the five
major English-language networks. Have students examine the social and cultural
changes that have led to the rise of ethnic media, with a focus on ethnic journalism.
What does this trend indicate about the American identity, and how does this
targeted news media impact the nature of the reporting in its news programs?
● Ruben Salazar had a complex relationship with the Chicano Civil Rights movement.
He was critical of much of the leadership and dubious of their agenda, but he also
understood the brutality of institutionalized racism that sparked the movement.
Guide students in an examination of the causes and impact of the Chicano
Movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Have them compare their research with the
portrayal of the movement’s in contemporaneous press coverage. Was the
coverage factual? Did the reporters have a point of view or agenda when covering
the stories? Compare the coverage of the Chicano/a Movement to the coverage of
a social movement today. Do you think today’s coverage of social movements is
more or less accurate? How has digital media changed the way social movements
are reported on? What role does citizen journalists, bloggers, and social media in
the portrayal of activism?
● Conspiracy Culture and Martyr Mythology: Screen the full film and examine the
impact of conspiracy culture and the veneration of civil rights martyrs in the shaping
of Ruben Salazar’s legacy.
Common Core Standards
Speaking and Listening Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in
History/Social Studies,
Grades 9-12, Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6
Common Core Writing Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in
History/Social Studies,
Grades 9-12, Nos. 1, 4, 7, 8, 9
National Center for History in the Schools
Standard 2: Historical Comprehension
National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies
Individuals, Groups and Institutions
Power, Authority and Governance
RACE 2012: A Conversation about Race and Politics in America
Directed by Phillip Rodriquez
Race 2012, a PBS Election 2012 special, is a provocative conversation about race and
politics that documents the changing face of America, and how that change may affect
the country’s political future.
Brown is the New Green: George Lopez and the American Dream (2007)
Directed by Phillip Rodriquez
Numbering 44 million, Latinos are not only this nation’s largest and fastest-growing
ethnic group, they are also big business. This film, by Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle
director, Phillip Rodriquez, is a fresh, provocative film examining how media and
marketers are shaping America’s perceptions of Latinos.
Chicano! History of the Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement (1996)
A four-part PBS documentary that covers the Chicano movement from 1965 to 1975.
The film features the Chicano land struggle, Cesar Chavez and the UFW, Los Angeles
High School walk-outs and the creation of La Raza Unida third political party.
Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle
The official websites for the PBS documentary that examines the life and death of this
pioneering journalist, killed under mysterious circumstances by a law enforcement
officer in 1970.
National Latino Communications Center
The National Latino Communications Center is a media arts production resource center
that supports, produces and syndicates Latino programming for public television. Its
purpose is to empower Latinos in the US throughout the broadcast communications
Journalism Education Association
The largest scholastic journalism organization for teachers and advisers
Becker, Andrew. "Mexico: Border Timeline." Public Broadcasting Service: Frontline World, 11
July 2012
Drummond, William J. The Death of a Man in the Middle: A Requiem for Ruben Salazar,
Esquire, Apr. 1972, 74-81.
Escobar, Edward J. The Dialectics of Repression: The Los Angeles Police Department
and the Chicano Movement, 1968-1971, The Journal of American History, Department
of History, The University of Houston
Salazar, Ruben. Interview. The Siesta is Over. KNXT-TV, Los Angeles. 13 May 1970.
Salazar, Ruben. Border Correspondent: Selected Writings, 1955-1970. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1995.
Salazar, Ruben. Who Is a Chicano? And What Does He Want? (LA Times, February 6,
1970), B7
Thompson, Hunter S. Strange Rumblings in Aztlan, Rolling Stone #81, April 29, 1971.
Acuña, Rodolfo. Occupied America: a history of Chicanos, New York: HarperCollins,
Aucoin, James. “The Reemergence of American Investigative Journalism 1960-75,”
Journalism History, Spring 1995
Haney López, Ian F. Racism on Trial: The Chicano Fight for Justice. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 2003.
Jacoby, Tamar. “Defining Assimilation for the First Century.” In Reinventing the Melting
Pot: The New Immigrants and What It Means to Be American, edited by Tamar Jacoby,
(New York, NY:Basic Books, 2004), 10 -11.
Rosales, F. Arturo. Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights
Movement. Houston: Arte Público, 1997.
Stavitsky, Alan and Jeffrey Dvorkin. “Objectivity and Balance: Conceptual and Practical
History in American Journalism.” White paper commissioned by the Corporation for
Public Broadcasting, September 2008.
Ricardo Cruz Papers, California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives, Davidson Library
Department of Special Collections, University of California, Santa Barbara
Don Edwards Congressional Papers, Library Special Collections and Archives, Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, San José State University
El Paso Herald Post Records, C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections
Department, University of Texas at El Paso Library
Howard A. Glickstein Papers, University of Notre Dame Archives
Theodore M. Hesburgh Papers, University of Notre Dame Archives
La Raza Magazine & Newspaper Records at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Records on the Investigation of the
Homicide of Ruben Salazar, Boeckmann Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies,
Special Collections, USC Libraries, University of Southern California
Los Angeles Times Collection, Charles Young Research Library, UCLA
Bob Navarro, “The Siesta is over” (interview with Ruben Salazar) KNXT-TV Los
Angeles, May 30, 1970
Regis Philbin, “Tempo,” (conversation with Ruben Salazar), KHJ-TV Los Angeles
The Prospector, University Library, University of Texas at El Paso
Manuel Ruiz Papers, Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives,
Stanford University
Ruben Salazar vs. COLA Civil Suit Records, City Archives and Record Center, City of
Los Angeles
Ruben Salazar Papers, Boeckmann Center for Iberian & Latin American Studies,
Special Collections, USC Libraries, University of Southern California
Salazar Archives, Weingarten Communications
Jesus Salvador Treviño Papers. Department of Special Collections and University
Archives, Stanford University
Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Sonoma State University Library