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Citizen Spotlight: Gena Rinckey, advancing the Breitbart legacy

If only Andrew Breitbart were still alive, he would have known how he inspired a Michigan mother of three to take down the Doctor Gosnell of the Great Lakes State.

Gena Rinckey channeled her inner Breitbart as she began investigating Michigan abortion doctor Robert Alexander who had made headlines in her neck of the woods. Despite losing his medical license twice, going to prison, allegedly botching multiple abortions, and having his clinic shut down, it was unclear whether or not Dr. Robert Alexander had been properly disciplined for his shoddy medical practices.

This just didn’t sit right with Gena, but she wondered what could be done. After a Watchdog Wire tweet up where she learned about the power of citizen journalism, she decided to investigate Dr. Alexander and find out how he had managed to fly under the radar for so long.

Gena Spotlight Draft2

She parsed through 230 pages of public documents on Dr. Alexander that she acquired through an open record request, and was appalled at her discovery: Dr. Alexander still had a full license to practice medicine in the state of Michigan. And even in her attempts to expose this horror, the local media and state government remained mum.

Gena didn’t give up.  Her next story featured a “wall of shame” that targeted specific elected officials who did not respond to her multiple attempts to inquire about the doctor’s whereabouts.  Many ignored her, and the few responses she did receive were lackluster at best. Senator Rick Jones’ office told her that nobody knew of the doctor’s current location. How’s that for government follow up?

But not long after, she received a news tip that Dr. Alexander was working at the Herman Kiefer Clinic in Detroit, a clinic that is reportedly federally funded. Gena knew she had to verify this information, so she called the Detroit Department of Public Health and Wellness Promotion and they confirmed her worst fear—Dr. Alexander was employed at the clinic on the taxpayer dime. How had the state missed this?

In closing of her latest investigative piece, Gena states, “Dr. Alexander was right under our noses all this time.  The more I delve into citizen journalism, the more I realize how vital it has become.  A media team could not get the truth regarding Dr. Alexander.” But Gena did.

What are citizen journalists made of?

Gena admits that she loves the cat-and-mouse-like games of going undercover. The thrill of the chase makes it not only more exciting, but also more rewarding when a storycomes to light. “I like being invisible until the story finally gets published.”

When asked about her experience investigating Dr. Alexander, it was surprising that this process was all new to her. Graduating with a degree in Paralegal Studies, Gena spent the next 20-plus years working for lawyers, including a large firm in Michigan.  She says she never worked on anything quite like this, including the request of public documents. “People don’t realize how easy FOIA is.”

Gena, who has called Michigan home for over 40 years, says she has always been interested in government, dating back to her early childhood.   Walter Cronkite’s reporting on the Vietnam War sparked many questions for a young Gena. Her father would patiently explain the situation as it unfolded on the nightly news.

“Today’s media isn’t covering stories the way they need to be covered,” said Gena, “it’s way too politically correct.”

It was the work of Andrew Breitbart—the man known for uncompromising style—that changed everything for Gena. The documentaries Occupy Unmasked and Hating Breitbart opened a whole new world.

Known for being a filmmaker and political commentator, Breitbart was known most of all as an unconventional journalist.

“Large media outlets don’t cover things that a citizen can get to,” said Gena. “You have to be the news media. I’m going to find the answers.”

Outside of serving as an inspiration, Breitbart may have taught Gena another important lesson. “Sometimes you need to get under officials’ skin,” said Gena. “You can’t be afraid to call out abuse or corruption.”

She says, ultimately, she is just looking to get honest answers to her questions. “Governments are supposed to work for the people,” said Gena. “In order to get change, citizens need to be involved.”

It is unknown just how many people Breitbart inspired before his unexpected death March 1 of last year, but for one woman, his work is the driving force behind her new-found passion in citizen journalism.

Categories: Citizen Spotlight, Government Transparency, Waste, Fraud and Abuse
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