ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Today, a major dispute erupted in the Democratic presidential primary, and it is all about data. The Democratic National Committee has locked Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders's campaign out of a national database of information about voters. NPR's Scott Detrow covers tech and politics and is here to explain it.
Scott, what's going on?
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Well, there's a lot of conflicting information here, but everybody agrees on this - at least one Bernie Sanders staffer accessed information that he shouldn't have that was compiled and owned by the Clinton campaign. That happened earlier this week for about 40 minutes. How many people did this and how much of Clinton's information they looked at or even downloaded - that's still unclear. It's important to know that every Democratic campaign accesses the same central hub of information about voters and they all add their own information and analysis to that data. But you're only supposed to be able to access your own campaign's information. Now, the Sanders campaign says that they had seen these problems before, they were just trying to alert the DNC to the problem. But the committee has a much different view of this. They say it's a major problem. It was a systematic accessing of the Clinton information and because of that, they've now barred the Sanders campaign from accessing this information.
SHAPIRO: So it sounds like the DNC and the Sanders campaign are each blaming each other. Let's listen here to Sanders's campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, who said the DNC is crippling his campaign.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
JEFF WEAVER: We are announcing today that if the DNC continues to hold our data hostage and continues to try to attack the heart and soul of our grassroots campaign, we will be in federal court this afternoon seeking immediate relief.
SHAPIRO: Sounds like harsh words. How important is this actually? Are the stakes really that high?
DETROW: Yeah, I think that's accurate. Weaver said this database is the lifeblood of any campaign, and he's right. You know, campaigns base a huge chunk of their strategy on this voter information, and it also takes a big part of what they do day in and day out. You know, every time a campaign is calling up a voter or knocking on a voter's door and talking to them, they're taking that information and they're putting it right back into this database. These days, when volunteers are going door-to-door and they're using apps to get that information and that information - it all comes from this. So they really can't do much of anything right now without access to these files.
SHAPIRO: OK, Scott, on the one hand you have the Sanders campaign saying this was an honest mistake. Then you have the chair of the DNC saying this was a systematic data download. Who's right?
DETROW: That's a good question, and that's something everyone's trying to sort out right now. But you're right - these are two very different stories. The Sanders campaign says that they saw evidence of a problem they had seen before and what they were doing was trying to just gather up evidence to bring to the party and say, hey, look, this is a problem. The DNC clearly views this differently because they responded in a very aggressive move by blocking the Sanders campaign out of a really crucial part of day to day campaigning.
SHAPIRO: This seems to be tapping into some deep-seated anger and resentment. What is going on under the surface here?
DETROW: There's a whole lot going on. And for the Sanders campaign, this fits into a broader trend that has angered them throughout the entire campaign. They've argued time in and time out that the Democratic National Committee, that the party structure as a whole is really doing everything it can to try and help Hillary Clinton win the nomination. One piece of evidence they always point to is the fact that tomorrow night's debate is the second in a row to happen on a Saturday night, where most viewers usually have better things to do than sit down and watch several hours of political debate. But they say the debates are being scheduled few and far between at hours where people won't watch them. And they say that this is just another example of the party apparatus siding with Clinton. And I can tell you that based on Twitter reaction and online reaction to NPR's initial story, a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters out there feel the same way.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Scott Detrow.
DETROW: Thank you Ari.