It didn’t take long for OTV and al-Akhbar to point out the same inconsistencies that I noticed in Okab Sakr’s testimony last week, and release responses comparing the segments “added” by Sakr to the original clips that they had published. (See here for the OTV clip; al-Akhbar‘s most recent response can be found here.)
Even if there is much about OTV and al-Akhbar‘s sensationalistic treatment of OkabGate that I find distasteful and petty, there’s no doubt that Sakr made it worse by employing an uncharacteristically naive political strategy to counter it.
When faced with such media scandals in Lebanon — and they are becoming increasingly common — you generally have two choices: (1) Deny everything and produce evidence of a massive conspiracy against you; (2) Own up to the charges but change the narrative.
The Hariri camp’s approach to OkabGate has been a mix of the two strategies. As acknowledged in the Friday press conference, they tried to own up to certain aspects of the narrative by publishing a picture of Sakr with the Free Syrian Army spokesperson Luay al-Miqdad on Facebook, once it became clear that their opponents had gotten a copy of the image.
On the other hand, Sakr also felt that he could play the conspiracy card by presenting new “evidence,” much as Nasrallah did with his similarly epic “Israeli drone footage” press conference back in 2010. I don’t know anyone who takes Nasrallah’s evidence seriously today, but it was well produced enough not to be terribly damaging to the party. The problem with Sakr’s evidence is that it is: (a) inconsistent; (b) shows signs of shoddy tampering; and (c) raises more questions than it answers. This wouldn’t be so bad if Okab didn’t also spend the entire press conference railing against his opponents as fabricators, liars, and forgers and advising them to “stop digging” now that they have found themselves in a hole.
Indeed, what makes Sakr’s current predicament all the more delicious to his opponents is that he was hoisted by his own petard. The problematic tapes he presented are acting as a mirror, reflecting all of the vivid colors he painted his opponents in back upon himself.
What’s puzzling to me is that Sakr had a different option all along but didn’t use it. Why not simply own up to the allegations but try to change the narrative? Why not release more recordings showing evidence of coordinating humanitarian supplies and trying to secure the release of the hostages, without splicing them into the ones about weapons transfers? Why not admit to one’s role in supporting the Syrian revolution, in both word and deed? Everyone had already assumed this to be the case, so why deny it?
I suspect the next wave of tapes will probably answer that question.