If the big story this week was how badly Vice President Bush had done in Iowa, the story seemed even bigger on CBS Evening News.

Anchor Dan Rather, who had engaged Bush in a live, angry debate on CBS Evening News Jan. 25, called Bush's third-place finish in the precinct caucuses Monday a "humiliation." He said that former television evangelist Pat Robertson had "smoked" Bush by coming in second, leaving Bush in "an embarrassing and fading third."

Turning to his reporter on the scene in New Hampshire, Rather talked about "a now-desperate Bush" who had "hit the ground hurting" after Iowa.

In contrast to the other two big networks, Rather's language had an edge. ABC News, for example, said Bush looked "a little lonely" on some of his campaign stops after Iowa.

Viewers who study the media as well as watch it described Rather as "tough." Others said Rather sounded vindicated in what had become a personal contest between him and candidate Bush.

"It just seemed pretty clear that the phrasing Dan Rather used in his lead-in about disarray in the Bush campaign was more pointed than the other two networks," said Michael Robinson, associate professor of government at Georgetown University and a media analyst.

At CBS, political journalists held the view that in the wake of the Rather-Bush interview, the network would be criticized for anything it did on Bush. "You can't win in those positions," said Tom Bettag, executive producer of the CBS Evening News. "If we played down the Bush defeat, I'd be getting the same call {from a reporter} asking why did you back off?

"We are a tough news organization, tough not just on Bush," Bettag said.

Other members of the CBS political team said that although they had heard criticism outside the network about their Bush coverage, within CBS there was an effort to keep their political news coverage from being "wishy-washy." They also said that CBS has not been any tougher on Bush than such newspapers as The Washington Post and The New York Times.

Rather's heated exchange with Bush contrasted dramatically with the vice president's live interview Wednesday night with NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw. The exchange was low key, minus the fireworks between Rather and Bush.

Although it is difficult to assess "negative" coverage and journalists have often said that such judgments are always in the eye of the viewer, Robert Lichter, codirector of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, this week analyzed coverage of Bush at the networks before and after the Rather interview.

Lichter said that their studies of the coverage of Bush by the three networks from Jan. 1 through the Iowa caucuses last Monday, showed that coverage of Bush at NBC and ABC changed very little before and after the vice president's encounter with Rather.

At CBS, Lichter said that Evening News reports about Bush were very slightly negative before the interview with Rather ranking a minus-one under Lichter's system. Afterward, Bush went to a minus 10, he said.

After the Bush-Rather exchange, reports on the CBS Evening News concentrated on the Iran-contra questions that Bush has not answered publicly.

By the end of the week, a report flashed a list of editorials from several newspapers saying that Bush had more to answer on Iran-contra.

Times Mirror Corp. officials said later that they were surprised to see the way CBS used a Gallup poll they had commissioned on the Bush-Rather contretemps.

CBS led with a piece of information that Times Mirror had put at the bottom of their release, that over 50 percent of those interviewed said they thought that Bush still had not told the full story on Iran-contra. The network then used another item, that the public was divided on whether Rather's questions were unfair.

"They totally ignored the other information in the press release about how these polls showed Rather's decline in popularity," said Robinson, who has been consulting for Times Mirror.

"There's no question but that CBS has tried to make its case even after the fact, that Rather was doing right and Bush wasn't coming clean," Robinson said.

CBS media critic Ron Powers provided the rare view of the other side on "Sunday Morning" Jan. 31. He called the interview a "frenzied exchange" with a "stunning aura of combat {that} simply overwhelmed any grasp of that interview's interior logic or its content . . . . "

"And yes, to answer the question that must be addressed by a media critic working for CBS News, I felt that Dan Rather had lost control of a legitimate line between interview and inquisition," Powers said.

All three networks last night covered former secretary of state Alexander M. Haig Jr.'s decision to leave the Republican race, his support for Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) and what both CBS and NBC called a "blood feud" between Haig and Bush.

However, Rather included an interview with Haig during which he asked what Haig thought about Bush's stand on the Iran-contra affair. "Is it fair to say you don't believe George Bush" or that he is "confused?" Rather asked. Haig said that in either case, Bush should not be president.

Rather, in a rare on-the-air smile, then asked: "What has George Bush ever done to you?"