LOS ANGELES -- Dan Rather says he's not worried about the ratings.
Connie Chung says she's not worried, either.
And their producer, Eric Sorenson, says he's even less worried than either of them.
But, boy, did the three of them seem worried and spend a lot of time trying to explain away some very embarassing news from Nielsen this week. After two months, the new "CBS Evening News With Dan Rather and Connie Chung" is faring worse in the ratings than the old newscast anchored solo by Rather.
Before Chung started, CBS News was in second place behind ABC's "World News Tonight With Peter Jennings." Last week, it finished third behind both ABC and the "NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw." That's right, behind NBC -- the one with arguably the worst news operation of any network in the last 25 years.
"The last thing we want to talk about is ratings," Sorenson said at a press conference yesterday, before launching into a long speech about how unfazed they are by the bad ratings.
"We're a work in progress," he said. "It takes a while to iron out the kinks. . . .
Actually, it's not just a lack of progress. The network has slipped farther back with Chung as co-pilot.
CBS' evening newscast is down 2 percent from a year ago, while NBC is up 1 percent, and ABC is up 7 percent. CBS now trails ABC by 1.5 ratings points or 1.4 million homes.
"We can't sit and watch the ratings night after night," Chung said, "because we have too much work to do."
"Everything in TV has something to do with ratings, it's true," Rather said. "But, while we may be dumb as fenceposts on some things, we're smart enough not to be totally consumed by ratings."
During the session, Rather was also asked if he thought he had lost any credibility for ending an interview with President Clinton last month by telling him how "everyone was pulling for" Mrs. Clinton and her efforts at health care reform.
"I have no apologies," Rather said. "I don't think I lost credibility. . . . In fact, I'm glad you think I still have some credibility left."