WASHINGTON – It was late on Aug. 22 when Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt wrapped up 1,250 words on his experiences in Mozambique. There was more he wanted to write about online, but he had to be up early.
"I think I'll post and go to bed," he wrote on his Web log.
Leavitt and Michael Chertoff at Homeland Security are the first two members of President Bush's Cabinet who are blogging. They are among the more than 61 million Internet blogs, according to blogpulse.com, a site that tracks blogs.
The State Department has begun a blog, too, although Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is not a contributor so far.
Chertoff and Leavitt discuss issues facing their departments and occasionally sound off on criticism of their policies.
Two of Chertoff's 11 entries challenge New York Times editorials. Most recently, he said the newspaper's editorial staff "hyperventilates" about the department's effort to arrest gangs and get illegal aliens off the street.
And on Sept. 14, Chertoff said an editorial about the department's disaster response plan was "a perfect storm of misrepresentation and misunderstanding."
Leavitt has written about the children's health care program and defend Bush's veto of a spending increase that the Democratic-controlled Congress passed. Last week, the House failed to override the veto. "The drama around vetoes and overrides are just the way Washington conducts a conversation and debate," he wrote.
In one entry, he compared personal health care with buying the right golf clubs; in the analogy, the clubs are the medication and the golf game is the medical ailment.
Leavitt started his blog in August, having enjoyed reading a pandemic flu blog that his department began this year.
"I've decided to wade in a little deeper into blogdom by writing one for the next month or so," Leavitt wrote in his first entry. "I'm going to see how I feel after that time period. I may continue; I may not."
Leavitt says he writes every blog entry himself, often late at night in hotel rooms when he is traveling. He is concerned that his entries are too long; on Aug. 20, he wrote 2,444 words about his trip to an orphanage in South Africa.
Chertoff began blogging in September so he could "open a dialogue with the American people about our nation's security." Chertoff comes up with an idea for a blog entry, then someone in the department writes it, and Chertoff heavily edits it, said Jeff Ostermayer, a department spokesman who oversees the blog.
One of the benefits of blogs is the opportunity for people to interact with government officials, said Michael X. Delli Carpini, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.
But when public officials are blogging, "you're seldom going to get a different point of view or an inside story," he said.
Public officials usually are promoting policies and not offering honest reflections of what is going on, Delli Carpini said. The key to a successful blog is to make sure the information in the blog is honest, accurate and serving a public purpose. "The very same technology that can make things more democratic can also be used for manipulation and propaganda," he said.
The public can comment on Chertoff's and Leavitt's blogs, but both departments established ground rules that include a ban on personal attacks and vulgar language.
A Sept. 15 comment to one of Chertoff's blogs about a New York Times editorial said, "Mr. Secretary, the DHS is doing a fine job, whether the New York Times thinks so, or not. There is just no pleasing some."
Another comment said, "This is a serious question. How do you have time to blog? Don't you have a 24-hour-a-day job with very important things to do?"
Leavitt said his blogging experience has so far been positive. The blog has picked up almost 100 links, he pointed out. "I have no idea if that's any good," he wrote. "Maybe some of you more experienced bloggers can give me some perspective."