In early 2009, Levine supplemented Lone Star’s operation by establishing a speakers bureau designed to arrange paid lectures for major media figures in Israel. His first speaker was Bronner, who he described in an e-mail to CJR as “a nominal friend and a terrific journalist.” Levine rounded out his roster of speakers with eight well-known Israeli media figures, including Haim Yavin, “founding father of Israel television news”; David Baker, “senior foreign press coordinator of the Israeli prime minister’s office—under four prime ministers”; and Amiel Ungar, “well-known spokesman of the settler movement in Judea and Samaria.” The speakers bureau section of the Lone Star site is illustrated with a photo of Levine and Bronner arm-in-arm.
Bronner says he gets several dozen story pitches a week, and only a few come through Lone Star. “Hearing from Lone Star impresses me no more than hearing from any other pitch source,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I look at the journalistic potential in the context of what else I am working on and try to act accordingly.” Since Bronner joined Lone Star’s speakers bureau, he has mentioned or written about Lone Star PR clients in at least five stories.
On the one hand, it might be hard to cover Israel without stumbling across Lone Star many clients. On the other, however, that might be a good reason not to have a business relationship with the firm.
The Times’s ethics guidelines guidelines say:
“Staff members and those on assignment for us may not accept employment or compensation of any sort from individuals or organizations who figure in coverage they are likely to provide, prepare or supervise.” [Section 36]
Also: “Staff members and others on assignment for us may not collaborate in ventures with individuals or organizations that are likely to figure in their coverage.” [Section 49]
Lone Star, meanwhile, is not a PR firm that seems to choose its clients based solely on their potential financial value. While a number of their listed clients—such as Harley Davidson Israel, the Ohio Trade Commission, and the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange—seem to be ideologically neutral, Levine has injected the firm with a distinctive political flavor.
A third-generation Texan who moved to Israel in 1978, Levine has run three high-profile PR firms since arriving in the country, starting up Lone Star in June 2006. He has often moved between PR and journalism, publishing op-eds and interviews with influential figures in an array of Israeli newspapers and magazines. Besides his reputation as a first-rate PR man, Levine is also known for his work as a media adviser to top Israeli government officials, mostly on the right (his working relationship with Shimon Peres, a Labor Party stalwart, is a notable exception). He says he has served as a media adviser—sometimes informally, sometimes as a paid gig—to former prime minister Ehud Olmert, current minister of education Gideon Sa’ar, Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diasapora Affairs Yuli Edelstein, Minister of National Infrastructure Uzi Landau, and other government officials. In addition, Levine serves as a reservist captain in the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit, a division of the Israeli Army responsible for disseminating the military’s point of view to the national press corps—and to international reporters like Bronner.
Bronner says he does not share what he described as “Charley Levine’s rightist politics.” According to Levine’s bio on Lone Star’s website, he lives in a “suburb of Jerusalem.” That “suburb” is, in fact, the Jewish mega-settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, which cuts deep into the West Bank. “I see myself as a mainstream Israeli who believes first and foremost in the Zionist mission of the state of Israel, in free enterprise, in the rule of law, and in the twin democratic and Jewish pillars of this nation,” Levine wrote in an e-mail.