Brian Williams is an honest man, says ... Dan Rather; Update: Contradictory accounts?

When Dan Rather tells you that something is trustworthy, you can take that shizz to the bank.

Like Williams, Rather has been the subject of public controversy. In 2004, he was forced to retract a report on George W. Bush’s National Guard service after the authenticity of his source documents were called into question. Rather retired from CBS News the following year, ending a 24-year run as anchor of the Evening News. He now anchors ‘Dan Rather Reports’ on the cable channel AXS.

“I don’t know the particulars about that day in Iraq,” Rather told POLITICO. “I do know Brian. He’s a longtime friend and we have been in a number of war zones and on the same battlefields, competing but together. Brian is an honest decent man, an excellent reporter and anchor–and a brave one. I can attest that — like his predecessor Tom Brokaw — he is a superb pro, and a gutsy one.”

He’s guilty as charged, in other words. I think we’re already at the “second apology” stage of this clusterfark, just because the first apology that Williams offered last night was itself misleading. Per Ben Shapiro, Williams clarified that he wasn’t in the chopper that was hit by an RPG but was in a “following aircraft” and that “we all landed after the ground fire incident and spent two harrowing nights in a sandstorm in the Iraq desert.” That makes it sound like he was part of the same convoy as the chopper that was attacked, which means he was still in danger, if not quite as much danger as he at first implied. In reality, he was in a different convoy that landed an hour later, and soldiers who actually were stranded for two nights in that sandstorm don’t remember seeing Williams after he and his crew initially disembarked to take photos of the damaged chopper. If, as expected, he apologizes again at greater length on tonight’s NBC newscast, he’ll presumably address these little white lies — but then, if he cops to having misled viewers in his first apology, what’s left of his credibility? He can’t do that, right?

Via Mediaite, here’s CNN anchorman Chris Cuomo at 2:30 refusing to defend Williams — can’t blame this on the “fog of war,” he acknowledges — but kinda sorta defending him anyway by complaining that “they” are starting to “eat him alive.” When Brian Stelter asks who “they” are, Cuomo says, “online, those lesser outlets and the growing mass of the angry.” That’s the second time today I’ve seen either Williams himself or someone in his industry whining about how mean the great unwashed of the Internet are to poor Brian Williams. What’d he ever do to have his credibility questioned so impudently?

Update: Help me square this circle. The flight engineer for the chopper that carried Williams in 2003 told Stars & Stripes that they took no fire of any kind.

Williams and his camera crew were actually aboard a Chinook in a formation that was about an hour behind the three helicopters that came under fire, according to crew member interviews.

That Chinook took no fire and landed later beside the damaged helicopter due to an impending sandstorm from the Iraqi desert, according to Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Miller, who was the flight engineer on the aircraft that carried the journalists.

“No, we never came under direct enemy fire to the aircraft,” he said Wednesday.

The pilot of that Chinook, though, tells CNN that they did take fire, albeit not the RPG that Williams initially claimed.

Williams was in the back of Krell’s aircraft along with three other NBC staffers. Krell referred to his Chinook as the “second bird” in the formation. The “first bird,” right in front of the “second bird,” was struck by the RPG.

Due to his seat in the back, Williams was most likely unable to witness the RPG attack, Krell said.

All three of the helicopters were hit by small arms fire, Krell said, supporting Williams’ past claims about that.

“The bridge expansions we were hauling took most of the hits,” Krell said.

Was Williams part of the formation that came under fire or wasn’t he?