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Afghanistan story generates surge of readership for conservative media

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Web traffic, social engagement and TV ratings for conservative outlets are booming in response to the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan.

Why it matters: “I haven't seen this much sustained coverage from the right on a single topic since the early days of the pandemic in March and April of 2020, and those months produced huge traffic numbers for conservative media outlets,” said Howard Polskin, an expert on conservative media.

By the numbers: Traffic to 20 of the top conservative news websites was up 4.2% the week of Aug. 10, when Afghanistan began to dominate the news cycle, according to data from SimilarWeb.

  • Conservative news sites had been declining for months following the Capitol siege.
  • Conservative sites saw higher traffic jumps over the last two weeks than mainstream media websites, like USA Today or Reuters.

TV ratings for Fox News have been soaring. The network beat all three broadcast networks in ratings last week for the first time since last September, per the AP.

On social media, stories about Afghanistan from a set of six conservative media outlets are getting more than twice as much engagement as stories about inflation — the previous topic they were hammering President Biden over — according to data from NewsWhip.

  • Top-performing stories included accounts of chaos and desperation in Kabul, as well as calls for Biden to resign from former President Trump, and for impeachment, from one of the Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden.

Be smart: After initially focusing heavily on the Biden administration’s diplomatic failures and miscalculations, the narrative on the right is shifting to focus more on whether the U.S. should be hosting Afghanistan refugees.

  • "For the right-wing press, this is a galvanizing event that has completely dominated coverage on most conservative news websites," Polskin said.

Yes, but: Conservative media are walking a line — coming down on Biden for how he has carried out the withdrawal, while not criticizing the decision itself, which was supported and brokered with the Taliban  by Trump.

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