STUMBLING THROUGH . . . Chi Trib headlines "a leader stumbles," page one, 4/14. Of ACLU, which pre-9/11 would have said fingering of suspects was profiling and would have hauled law enforcers into court for violation of civil liberties and even now objects to Patriot Act, our best shot so far at nailing pre-crime perps? No, the U.S. -- dare I say "our"? -- president, who if he had only bombed an aspirin factory and let it go at that, would be an A-OK moderate Republican handwringer not to be analyzed by Michael Tackett on page one just left of the headline story.

Tackett's back with page one analyses. Analyze this, says m.e. James O'Shea or some other editor, and away he goes. Plus ca change here. Chi Trib of Col. McCosmic days did it on page one with a Carey Orr or Parrish cartoon showing FDR with cigarette holder and raised chin or wide-eyed bomb throwers with scraggly beard and hair askew. Now the same effect is achieved in this more sophisticated age by a Tackett analysis. "Analyze this," say editors, and he does it.

WHO, ME? . . . Plus Ashcroft vs. accusatory FBI man. Is FBI at least as much in a CYA mode as anyone else in these days of finger-pointing? What's this commission up to, by the way? It's circus time in Washington. Ashcroft makes "pointed [counter]attacks," Cam Simpson writes, apparently upset at A's saying he did not want to add to our pain. B.S., mutters Simpson, whose 4th paragraph offers an interesting succession of blamers-of-others. It would have made a good lead paragraph if one were not playing to the get-Ashcroft gallery.

Accusatory FBI man says he did not know why nobody else in the FBI took him seriously either? Oh? But accusation of Ashcroft is lede, whether put there by Cam or moved up by an O'Shea minion?

Ashcroft found or says he found -- who in the gallery can believe him? -- no Clinton effort to off Bin Laden. That's been said for months in the right-wing press, which adds that on one occasion that Bill was finishing up a golf game. But no mainstreamer has willing to muck up its skirts in such an investigation. Yuck! The people who raise those issues do not turn up at the parties. And nobody Pauline Kael knew voted for Nixon in '68.

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