"Deterring Democracy", Channel 4 News

Created: 2021
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"Deterring Democracy", Channel 4 News
Summary: "At the height of the 2020 US election battle, Channel 4 News broadcast a series of reports based on a vast and secret voter database assembled by Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Built with the personal information of almost 200 million people, the data exposed a divisive and racially-charged political messaging project long-misrepresented by those who led it. Specifically, it revealed how the campaign had classified 3.5 million Black Americans for “deterrence” - a group they wanted not to vote at all. Obtaining the data was a huge prize but at five terabytes – twice the size of the Panama Papers – it was too big to open on a standard computer. To analyse it, the investigations team had to build a new system and master several programming languages. The information they eventually unlocked fundamentally changes our understanding of how Donald Trump fought his way to the White House in 2016 and how he was fighting to stay there in 2020. It showed how every potential voter was classified by the campaign, and how in 16 key battleground states millions of Americans - many of them Black - were placed in the “deterrence” group. These voters received divisive, dishonest and, on Facebook, disappearing messages from the campaign in an effort to dissuade them from voting at all. Did the strategy work? Channel 4 news worked determinedly to find out, applying to state electoral commissions across America for access to voter records and matching the individual’s marked for “deterrence” by the Trump team against their 2016 voting record. Just as the campaign had hoped, many of their targets stayed at home and in numbers greater than Trump’s margin of victory in some states. In September, our newsgathering team arrived in one such state - Wisconsin. Mindful of the pandemic and being careful to socially distance, they spent days going door-to-door in Milwaukee, finding and interviewing Black voters the Trump team had sought to “deter”. In London, the team gathered examples of the 2016 social-media messages focused at “deterrence” voters, made phone contact with campaign sources across America, and eventually obtained internal documents proving the campaign had used voters’ race to refine its digital messages and to target them. Notably, campaign managers had always denied, in TV interviews and to the House Intelligence Committee, that they had ever targeted Black voters, or carried out any form of voter suppression. Next, Channel 4 News correspondents doggedly pursued on-camera comments from Tim Murtaugh, Kayleigh Mcenany and others who speak for Donald Trump and we continued to explore the implications of the story. In Kenosha, voters who were marked for ‘persuasion’ in 2016 confirmed they were being bombarded with incendiary political messages in 2020. In Massachusetts, Professor David Carroll spoke to the programme. For years, had sought and failed to obtain the data held on him by the Trump campaign – a legal battle charted in a Netflix movie, The Great Hack. In late September, we presented him with the Trump data he had failed to obtain through the courts. In the key state of Florida, Channel 4 News joined with The Miami Herald to reveal how Black communities had been targeted and reported that the Trump team and its supporters were pumping disinformation into Hispanic households in Florida on social media, Youtube and WhatsApp. Finally, in San Antonio, Texas, Leo Reyes described his work assembling hundreds of inflammatory and misleading ads for the presidential campaign. This is the first on-camera interview with a former digital campaign worker brave enough to contradict the Trump-approved narrative about how victory was achieved in 2016. The series was a global news event, which trended across Twitter and was reported in, Europe, India, Australia and Asia. In the US, it was covered by a host of regional as well as national outlets including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, CNN, ABC, PBS, NPR, Salon, Axios, Forbes, The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Variety, Bloomberg, the Daily Beast and The New York Times. The broadcasts also galvanised multiple Black rights organisations including the NAACP and Colour of Change who had accused the Trump campaign of running a racist and divisive political operation, and charged Facebook with enabling it. In subsequent interviews with Channel 4 News Democratic chief whip Jim Clyburn, Reverend Al Sharpton and Professor Cornel West shared their indignation. The day after the “deterrence” report was broadcast, former President Barack Obama released a video telling Black voters: “Right now, from the White House on down, folks are working to keep people from voting, especially communities of colour. That’s because there’s a lot at stake in this election. Not just our pandemic response or racial justice, but our democracy itself.” The Trump campaign called our reporting “fake news”."--2000 Peabody Awards entry form.

Corporate Producers: Submitted by: ITN Channel 4 News. Produced by: ITN News for Channel 4. Presented by: Channel 4 (UK).

Persons Appearing: Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Siobhan Kennedy, Ayshah Tull, Lindsey Hilsum, Matt Frei

Broadcast Date: 2020

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