In a front-page piece Monday, The Washington Post described the ability of evangelical groups to flood telephone switchboards instantly with complaints. Now the paper has found itself on the receiving end of just such a protest.

The Post has been deluged with calls since that article, which described followers of television evangelists as "largely poor, uneducated and easy to command." The paper ran a correction the following day, saying there was "no factual basis" for the statement.

Some of the more than 500 evangelical Christians who have called the paper were responding to the Rev. Pat Robertson, who read from the article on his "700 Club" show, flashed The Post's address and suggested that viewers write protest letters. Others called of their own accord. Still others suggested a boycott of The Post in calls to a Christian radio program here.

"They are very angry," said Joann Byrd, the paper's ombudsman. "People feel insulted. A lot of people have said, 'I am not poor, here's how much money I make. I am not uneducated, here are the graduate degrees I hold. And I do my own thinking.' "

Robert G. Kaiser, The Post's managing editor, said he and other editors failed to catch the "profoundly opinionated assertion" before publication. "We really screwed up. ... One of the sins we commit from time to time is insensitivity," he said.

"I just have no recollection of it. Does that mean I read it and agreed with it, or, because it was at the end of a paragraph, completely skipped over it? I just don't know."

Michael Weisskopf, the article's author, said he made "an honest mistake, not born of any prejudice or malice for the religious right." He said his description was "overstated" and should have been qualified by saying that evangelicals in general are "relatively" poor and uneducated.

Weisskopf said he based the description on interviews with several experts, but didn't attribute it to anyone because "I try not to have to attribute every point in the story if it appears to be universally accepted. You don't have to say, 'It's hot out, according to the weatherman.' "

A version of the correction that mistakenly ran in some editions included statistics from a Gallup poll suggesting that evangelicals are slightly less educated and less well paid than average Americans. The editors concluded that the poll results were not relevant.

Robertson's Christian Coalition is sending a mailing to thousands of Washington-area members, suggesting they call or write The Post. Executive Director Ralph Reed said Weisskopf's description was "prejudiced and bigoted" and "shows that The Washington Post, as with all other media venues, is insensitive as to who evangelicals are. They don't rub shoulders with these people, they don't socialize with them."

Robert Dugan, spokesman for the National Association of Evangelicals, said the "media elite" find it easy to "take a shot at Christian people because so many of their views are not politically correct."

Hillary Watch

Some noses are out of joint at the New York Times's Washington bureau over the exclusive interview that food writer Marian Burros snared with Hillary Rodham Clinton -- the one in which she talked about dinner menus and banning smoking. "There was definite displeasure, a lot of angst," one reporter said.

The Times is hardly alone. Several news organizations, long accustomed to having a lifestyles reporter cover the First Lady, are engaged in an internal tug of war over how to divide Mrs. Clinton's policy-making and cookie-baking roles.

The Times's five White House reporters received only a last-minute warning about the Tuesday piece. Some Timespersons were also grumbling about the ground rules. The paper said it had agreed to ask Mrs. Clinton "only about the traditional duties of the First Lady ... and not about her responsibilities for helping shape policy."

"I was doing a story about the first official dinner," Burros said. "I'm not a political reporter."

"It's not setting a precedent for White House coverage," said Washington editor Andrew Rosenthal. "This is a particular kind of reporter going after a particular kind of story. Marian Burros wasn't going to quiz Hillary Clinton on the health care issue."

Meet the New Boss

When New York Post columnist Mike McAlary jumped to the Daily News this week, the Post slyly reprinted a Jan. 8 column he had written about his new boss, News owner Mort Zuckerman.

Writing after Zuckerman's dismissal of 175 Newspaper Guild members, McAlary called the Z-man "Public Enemy No. 1" and a "power-mad Stalin wannabe" who "borrows freely from the fascist handbook. ... I don't know how anybody can trust Mort Zuckerman with the News. ... {He's} just another cheap dictator who shot his way to power."

McAlary now says the Post's prospective new owner, controversial businessman Steven Hoffenberg, is even worse. "Hoffenberg makes this guy look like a saint," McAlary told the New York Times, adding that Zuckerman had forgiven him.

The $275,000-a-year columnist couldn't resist a parting shot at Hoffenberg: "I cover crooks, I don't work for them." Hoffenberg returned fire in the Post, calling McAlary "a liar." (Nothing personal; Hoffenberg also called Zuckerman a "reckless madman" for raiding his staff.)

Vacuum at State

CBS News, whose roster of State Department reporters has included Marvin Kalb, Bernard Kalb, Diane Sawyer, Bob Simon, Bob Schieffer and Bill Plante, has abolished the beat as a full-time job. Pentagon reporter David Martin will now cover Foggy Bottom in his spare time.

"Most of the stories over there are quintessential talking-head stories," said one CBS staffer. "A story that features nothing but white men in suits has an uphill battle to get on the air."

Washington bureau chief Barbara Cochran said the Pentagon makes less news in the post-Cold War era and that a second defense reporter backs up Martin. "The State Department just did not produce that many stories," she said. "It just didn't seem like a good use of resources."

As for Martin, he said: "I'll either do it or I'll go down in flames."