A ‘federal family’ affair

FEMA chief Craig Fugate and National Weather Service director Jack Hayes recently wrote an op-ed about preparations for hurricane season. They noted the coordinated efforts of “the entire federal family, state, local and tribal governments, the faith-based and non-profit communities, and the private sector.”

This wouldn’t be especially interesting, except as reader J.M. noted via email, Republican media outlets are apparently worked up about the phrase “federal family.”

Here, for example, is a Fox News report that ran on Monday:

[B]efore Irene fizzled, the Obama White House wanted to make sure that Irene was no Katrina and that, in fact, the president and his aides would be seen in compassionate command of the situation.

Hence the introduction of what may be the most condescending euphemism for the national government in its long history of condescending euphemizing: “federal family.”

This new phrase was supposed to, [Fox News’ Power Play] supposes, make anxious East Coasters feel the love of a caring federal government — tender squeeze from the Department of Homeland Security, a gentle embrace from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The phrase was a centrally distributed talking point, appearing in op-eds, press releases and statements from across the administration.

No major hurricane had hit the U.S. mainland in the Obama era, and the “federal family” had obviously been saving up a lot of new approaches to differentiate itself from the clan under President George W. Bush.

National Review‘s Andrew McCarthy was also troubled by the “federal family” phrase, as was Doug Powers at Michelle Malkin’s site, though both appeared to be working from the assumptions of the Fox News report.

There’s just one problem: Fox News’ report is completely wrong and based on lazy assumptions, which could have been avoided if it had taken 30 seconds to check.

Fox News said the “federal family” phrase was “introduced” by the Obama administration, adding that it’s a “new phrase” intended to draw a distinction between Obama’s team and Bush’s. What Fox News didn’t bother to find out is that the Bush administration also used the “federal family” phrase, many times, as did the Clinton administration, many times. It simply refers to a group of federal agencies that work together on emergency response.

It’s not “new”; it wasn’t “introduced” by the Obama administration; it’s not part of a “condescending” liberal scheme to make Americans love the government; it has nothing to do with embarrassing the Bush administration, since the Bush team used the same rhetoric. Fox News just didn’t bother to get its facts straight before misleading its audience.

There’s a good reason those who rely on Fox News seem so confused, so often — they’re routinely lied to.