To help readers get access to the best news, The Factual is using its AI-powered algorithm to collect data on the biggest news topics of 2021. This week we are focusing on Afghanistan and the impending U.S. withdrawal of military forces. To that end, we’ve put together a dataset of 3,286 articles about Afghanistan from over 240 major news sources and organizations from January 1, 2020 to May 5, 2021. Each time our algorithm analyzes an article it produces a Factual Grade — a measurement of how well-researched and reliable an article is. We can then use these scores to highlight specific publishers, authors, and specific articles that are consistently delivering top-notch journalism and analysis on any topic. 

There has been no shortage of great reporting on Afghanistan, but continued quality journalism will be all the more important in 2021 as the U.S. moves toward withdrawing all military forces. That raises the stakes for the region, especially since the departure of the U.S. could lead to a deteriorating security situation and instability. The months ahead will be crucial to the future of Afghanistan as well as the legacy of the U.S. presence, placing a high price on accurate, timely reporting in what might be the final chapter of U.S. military action there. 

The Topic: U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Afghanistan is called the “graveyard of empires” for good reason — many powers have been embroiled in long-running, costly conflicts there over the years, and all have left in failure. Recognizing the futility of continued U.S. participation, Biden, like Trump, is targeting a complete withdrawal of American military forces. But the decision is not strictly straightforward. There are reasons to stay (e.g., the instability of the Afghan government, the growing power of the Taliban, and the necessity to protect Afghanis from humanitarian crises) and reasons to go (e.g., high costs, unpopularity, and failure to make an impact). Even if withdrawal contradicts the advice of some top military officials, the Biden administration decided that finally ending one of America’s “forever wars” is better than perpetuating a military presence that has little hope of changing conditions on the ground.

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Finding the Best Journalists

How does The Factual select the best journalists on a news topic? We look at the number and diversity of links and direct quotes, the writing tone, the topical expertise of the author, and the publishing history of the hosting site to establish a single percentage score — what we call the Factual Grade — for each article. These scores then permit for the comparison of news articles, sources, and journalists and authors from across the media ecosystem on four clear and consistent metrics. (To find out more about how these work, watch this video or see our How It Works page.) For reference, a Factual Grade of 80% or higher is quite difficult to obtain — just 5% of articles in our dataset did so.

For this particular analysis, we wanted to determine which authors have been consistently scoring the best according to our algorithm. To do so, we built a dataset of articles that specifically had “Afghanistan,” “Taliban,” or “Kabul” in the title. Then we sorted the data to highlight authors with the highest average score over at least 5 articles during the time period — roughly one article for every 100 days.

There are some clear shortcomings to our data. For example, The Factual looks at 10,000+ articles every day does not verifiably analyze everything published in U.S. media. Similarly, we only included articles with a single author in this ranking. Either way, we strongly believe our data captures key elements of quality news and analysis.

The Top 5 Journalists on the War in Afghanistan

  1. Jerry Dunleavy — Washington Examiner
    Average Factual Grade: 85%  |  Number of Articles: 7

    Dunleavy is a Justice Department reporter at the Washington Examiner, where his reporting on Afghanistan over the time period included extensive coverage on the Russian bounty scandal, where Russian actors were allegedly issuing bounties to Taliban soldiers who killed American and coalition soldiers.

    Best Article: “US spy chiefs warn leaks on alleged Russia-Taliban plot ‘jeopardize’ ability to find the truth
    Factual Grade: 88%

  2. Colin Dwyer — NPR
    Average Factual Grade: 79%  |  Number of Articles: 5

    Dwyer is a breaking news reporter for NPR with specialties in Latin America, the Middle East, sports, and scientific research. His coverage has helped document numerous attacks and disruptions to the pursuit of peace in Afghanistan.

    Best Article: “At Least 32 Dead After Shooting In Kabul; ISIS Group Claims Responsibility
    Factual Grade: 83%

  3. Katie Bo Williams — Defense One
    Average Factual Grade: 78%  |  Number of Articles: 15

    Williams is a senior national security correspondent with expertise in relevant topics like counterterrorism and NATO, making her journalism a prime spot for up-to-date reporting and critical context and analysis.

    Best Article: “US’ Afghanistan Drawdown Will Continue Amid Taliban Violence, Pentagon Says
    Factual Grade: 87%

  4. Dan Spinelli — Mother Jones
    Average Factual Grade: 78%  |  Number of Articles: 5

    Writing on national security for Mother Jones, Spinelli has written about topics such as the overlap between the anti-war movement and Trump’s interesting withdrawing from Afghanistan as well as the varied impacts of the U.S. drawdown.

    Best Article: “After Trump Loosened the Rules of Engagement, Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan Rose by 95 Percent
    Factual Grade: 86%

  5. Conor Finnegan — ABC News
    Average Factual Grade: 76%  |  Number of Articles: 5

    Finnegan is a journalist with ABC News with special focus on the State Department and national security. His work for ABC has monitored flashpoints in Afghanistan as well as the impending U.S. withdrawal.

    Best Article: “Dispute over prisoners, deadly attacks in Afghanistan threaten US deal with Taliban
    Factual Grade: 81%

Check out our companion articles:

The Best News Sources on the War in Afghanistan

The Best Articles on the War in Afghanistan in 2021

Published by Phillip Meylan

Phillip is a writer, researcher, and editor. At The Factual, he leads research efforts that utilize the company's ever growing data on the media ecosystem. He is also a contributor to FP Analytics, Foreign Policy's research and advisory division, and an adjunct fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.