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Factories are closing, thousands of breadwinners are being fired. The economic slowdown is shrinking the advertising business, and the media are under pressure, probably even worse than that felt by the rest of the economy. The goal of gaining a rating that will bring back the advertisers seems to have made any means to achieve this end acceptable.

The most effective means are the emotional, voyeuristic and manipulative preoccupation with captive and missing soldiers. This method, in a callous and unrestrained propaganda campaign to free Gilad Shalit, reached new heights this week, a level never reached in the previous round when numerous terrorists were released for the bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.

It is doubtful whether the media will bring in more profit and return its economic independence this way, but it is clear that a large segment of the public, including those who agree to pay a disproportionate price for the release, have lately gotten sick of the heavy doses of propaganda they are being force-fed by the media. Since the Shalit family settled in the protest tent in Jerusalem, a significant part of radio and television news broadcasts have opened with the Shalit story, while the country's real problems - the economy, the establishment of a new government, security issues with the news that Iran has reached nuclear maturity - are presented as being of secondary importance.

When the television and radio are granting large amounts of air time to those making the pilgrimage to the Shalits, who can refuse to come? Here is the Defense Minister, who in part was battered in the elections because he failed to return Shalit, and certainly because of the failure to free Shalit within the framework of Operation Cast Lead, coming to "identify" with the family. As if on this issue he is not the first in the line of those responsible.

The families who forced the state to free arch-terrorists for their relatives' bodies also had their own tender media moments for preaching. They have already set a high bar, expensive and dangerous, whose victims and numbers are still not known, for the future release of captives and the dead.

The goal and timing of the settlement across the road from Ehud Olmert's house are obvious: To put pressure on him that he cannot resist. You sent him and you have personal responsibility, says the populistic and catchy pressure campaign; which of course does mention the other responsibilities, the broader ones, that Olmert has as prime minister. Among other things, the responsibility to the many who might be abducted or even lose their lives if the mass murderers and their commanders are freed.

And such a disproportionate commotion is going on over the release of just one captive, which has managed to brainwash so many of the public and decison-makers until they have demanded to pay Hamas all they want. It is easy to imagine the riot that will take place and what price we will be required to pay - as a result of the victory in the present propaganda campaign - if, God forbid, a larger number of soldiers or civilians were abducted.

Olmert can regain a little bit of respect if at the last minute he acts as a leader who shows that national interests are more important in his eyes than populist glory and hugs from those who defended him earlier and now are collaborating in creating the mass hysteria; after all, the coddling Olmert received from the media in the past and the media's present irresponsible behavior in the Shalit affair go hand in hand.

They are demanding for Olmert to take action, which the remaining part of conscience seemingly does not let him do: harming our true, strategic long-term national interests. If he acts as a leader in the last few days he has left in power, history will remember him.