Wikileaks' explosive scoop

It is utterly sickening to watch the video of what Wikileaks claims is "the unprovoked slaying" of  two Reuters employees, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen. We watch events unfold through the perspective of an Apache gunsight, as the helicopter circles lazily over a group of men gathered in a Baghdad courtyard. "That's a weapon" says a voice, as the video shows a picture of a man carrying a black blur, which could be, well, anything. Over the image, the editor has superimposed text: "Samir w/ camera."

"Just fuckin', once you get on 'em, just open 'em up," says another voice, as the Apache positions for a better shot on the group. The Wikileaks text states that one of the men is Chmagh, talking on his phone, just before the helicopter unleashes a burst of machine gun fire on the group of men, sending them rolling on the ground. "Oh, yeah, look at those dead bastards," says a soldier.

If you needed any further proof that war is hell, look no further. But here's the problem: I have no way of verifying that Wikileaks' narrative here -- that we're witnessing the unprovoked murder of Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen -- is accurate. All I see is a number of men cut down by an Apache gunship; the context  appears to be unverifiable.

Wired sees this story as evidence of "how a website dedicated to anonymous leaks has become a venue for a more traditional model of investigative reporting." I'm not so sure. The benefit of traditional reporting is that people are eventually forced to go on record: Individuals lend their names and reputations to a specific set of facts. That doesn't appear to be happening here. Wikileaks promises that it "goes to great lengths to verify the authenticity of the information it receives," but it doesn't quote any sources that can lend credence to its version of events.

There is no doubt that this is a truly horrifying video to watch. But what it appears to be now, to my eyes, is an important lead to a story, rather than the final product.


Tomb Sweeping Day in China

Today, April 5, marks the traditional "Tomb Sweeping Day" in China, an annual observance when families pay tribute to deceased relatives and ancestors. The day is now also a time to honor the victims and approximate anniversary of the earthquake that struck western China's Sichuan province on May 12, 2008.

The Wenchuan earthquake, which left more than 69,000 dead and 18,000 missing, triggered an immense and unprecedented outpouring of national concern. While China has no established middle-class philanthropic tradition, many people from across China sent donations to help in rebuilding efforts or traveled themselves to the region to volunteer labor. Chinese journalists briefly enjoyed greater freedom than in the past to cover the disaster and relief efforts, and a handful of brave lawyers petitioned the government on behalf of families that had lost children when poorly-constructed schools collapsed, until these advocates crossed a certain line.

Today, the earthquake remains a poignant memory, a more emotional touchstone for most ordinary Chinese people -- evoking the country's struggles, fragility, and national spirit -- than even the spectacular Beijing Olympics, while drew such great international attention three months later. In Sichuan province, many tombs were graced with fresh flowers this Monday.