A former White House correspondent says she was "quite willing to let myself be ravished" by President Clinton after she felt he had admired her legs on Air Force One.

Nina Burleigh, who covered the White House for Time, makes the confession in a Mirabella magazine essay on Clinton's attractiveness to women. It is a candid discussion of her feelings while playing hearts with the president and aide Bruce Lindsey in the plane's front cabin last year.

"The president's foot lightly, and presumably accidentally, brushed mine once under the table," Burleigh writes. "His hand touched my wrist while he was dealing the cards. When I got up and shook his hand at the end of the game, his eyes wandered over to my bike-wrecked, naked legs. And slowly it dawned on me as I walked away: He found me attractive."

She adds: "I probably wore the mesmerized look I have seen again and again in women after they have met him. The same silly hypnotized gleam was displayed on the cover of Time magazine in Monica Lewinsky's eyes."

In an interview, Burleigh, now a New York freelancer, said she in no way felt harassed or pressured by the president but that it was "not unusual for women" to swoon over him. What is unusual, for a journalist, is Burleigh's sexually charged declaration of support for Clinton. "I'd be happy to give him {oral sex} just to thank him for keeping abortion legal," she said.

But Burleigh says she was not "going easy on him" as a White House correspondent in 1993 and 1994, when she sometimes wrote about the Whitewater scandal, and never thought about his looks at the time. By last year she was a Time contract writer, filling in on the trip to Jasper, Ark.

"No doubt the president's lawyers and spin doctors would say I wishfully imagined that long, appreciative look," she writes. "But we all know when we're being ogled. . . . I felt incandescent. It was riveting to know that the president had appreciated my legs, scarred as they were. If he had asked me to continue the game of hearts back in his room at the Jasper Holiday Inn, I would have been happy to go there and see what happened." The Monthly's Mistake

Back in April, the Washington Monthly chided the New York Times and The Washington Post for what it described as excessively harsh coverage of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and charges involving his handling of a proposed Indian gambling casino.

But now the magazine has acknowledged problems with its own coverage. After receiving letters of complaint, the Monthly has retracted a series of allegations about the Florida-based Hecht family, which played a role in the casino application. Worse, the magazine admitted it did not try to contact the family or the companies or tribes involved.

Among the retracted charges: "that the Hecht family has been linked to organized crime' "; "that the patriarch of the family . . . was a friend and business associate of the late gangster Meyer Lansky' "; and that a Hecht son-in-law "has a stake in a Florida company with mob ties."

"We were wrong," says Editor Charles Peters. "We didn't have the stuff. . . . Frankly, I didn't pay too much attention to that part of the piece" because it was secondary to the main argument, he says.

The problem, Peters says, is that reporter Robert Worth "didn't call these people and get their side, and they had a side -- enough of a side that I felt we should run a retraction. . . . As an editor, I'm afraid sometimes I fail to say, Did you check this?' Did you check that?' " Capital Exodus

In this era of decentralized government, much of the policy action, lobbying and big-bucks decisions are taking place in state capitals. The one thing in short supply is journalists.

A study in American Journalism Review says more and more newspapers are "ignoring state government," noting that 27 state capitals have fewer reporters covering that beat than in the early 1990s. Fourteen, including Maryland and Virginia, have more reporters, and nine had no change.

"In capital press rooms around the country," the piece says, "there are more and more empty desks and silent phones. Bureaus are shrinking, reporters are younger and less experienced, stories get less space and poorer play, and all too frequently editors just don't care."

Ron Martin, editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, defends his shrinking coverage (three full-time reporters and a fourth during the legislative session, compared with five covering television) and calls the criticism "boring." Such carping, Martin told AJR, always comes from "journalists. Never readers, never real people."

The piece is part of a $1 million study of newspapers that is affiliated with the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the University of Maryland, and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

AJR blames the shrinking statehouse press on a shift toward softer features and cutbacks at such major chains as Gannett and Knight Ridder. At Gannett's Great Falls, Mont., Tribune, the former publisher was said to scrawl "G's" on articles he felt were too governmental.

The numbers are telling. The press corps in Lansing, Mich., has shrunk from as many as 25 in the mid-'80s to 15. The Hartford, Conn., contingent has dropped by more than half, and four papers no longer have full-time bureaus there. Annapolis has six full-time newspaper reporters -- three from the Baltimore Sun, two from The Washington Post and one from the Annapolis Capital -- with extra help when the legislature meets.

By contrast, Sacramento has 44 newspaper reporters, including a dozen from the Los Angeles Times, and Tallahassee has 30. Crack Project

"Dark Alliance" is back. Gary Webb, who left the San Jose Mercury News after it backed off his 1996 series linking the CIA, Nicaraguan rebels and cocaine trafficking, has put his findings into a 548-page book.

A small house called Seven Stories is publishing the book -- including a glowing foreword by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) -- after what Webb describes as a "torrent of rejections."

Webb slams The Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times for challenging his allegations. He also rips Mercury News Executive Editor Jerry Ceppos for taking a "swan dive" on the story and says his series did have one serious flaw: lousy editing. Out of the Crossfire

John Podhoretz sure knows how to make an exit.

The New York Post's editorial page editor was invited on "Crossfire" Thursday night to talk about CNN's embarrassing retraction of its story about American troops using nerve gas. But when his turn came, "from the left" co-host Michael Kinsley began interrogating him about an incident last February in which one of Podhoretz's assistants added fake sentences to a letter to the editor. After two questions -- Kinsley called him a "sermonizer" before he had a chance to speak -- Podhoretz, appearing from New York, cried foul.

"How about letting me talk, Michael?" Podhoretz said.

"I ask the questions and you answer them, John," Kinsley replied.

"Yeah, well, then I'll walk off the set if that's what you're going to do."

When Kinsley kept up the barrage, uncorking five more questions about the letter incident, Podhoretz ripped off his microphone and stormed off.

"I feel I was sandbagged," Podhoretz said later. "I was unprepared. I answered the question twice and he was bullying me. Mike did some cutesy opposition research on me."

Said Kinsley: "He was demanding the right not to talk about what he didn't want to talk about. When he threatened to walk away, I felt this was blackmail. . . . I think he looked ridiculous."