ANALYSIS: Illness and the Press / PM's 'Prostate Speech'

Olmert's aides did a good job orchestrating the media event around the discovery of his tumor.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his aides did a good job Monday orchestrating the media event around the discovery of his prostate tumor.

Olmert faced the cameras, reported his condition to the public, and let his doctors answer questions.

Professor Kobi Ramon and Dr. Shlomo Segev described a microscopic tumor, which was not endangering Olmert's life or impairing his performance, and which could be removed in a simple routine operation.

One could take a cynical view of Olmert's 'prostate speech' and say the prime minister and his aides exaggerated by calling a dramatic news conference instead of issuing a laconic statement. No doubt, Olmert will gain public sympathy for his ailment. Ilana Dayan already announced she would put off the 'Fact' broadcast about the investigations against Olmert, scheduled for Thursday. Olmert's popularity is also expected to rise in the polls.

But these are negligible comments. Olmert has shown a new openness that breaks with the tradition of his predecessors hiding their ailments (like Levy Eshkol, Golda Meir and Menachem Begin), or responding with dismissive joking to questions about their health (Ariel Sharon).

Contempt for the public interest reached its peak in the 18 days separating Sharon's two strokes, when his aides feigned him functioning as normal. Even his doctors said in interviews that he was a healthy man one of whom, Dr. Segev, is now Olmert's physician.

Olmert is setting a good example for Israelis in the way he looks after his health. He keeps fit and has periodical medical examinations. This is how his prostate tumor was discovered. After consulting with doctors and family, Olmert advised President Shimon Peres, acting premier Tzipi Livni (who is visiting China), Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and a few others.

One may only hope that Monday's news conference will set a new norm for state leaders' conduct. The new procedure in the Prime Minister's Office, specifying who will take care of the prime minister and obliging him to brief the public about his medical condition, is the right way to go. It is only regrettable that it was introduced as a belated lesson from the failures of Sharon's treatment.