For much of the foreign press corps, the first couple of days here last week were an agony of confusion, garbled communications and dead telephones.
But for some correspondents there were still greater frustrations when the lines were open. Many media organizations were so convinced that Washington's depiction of events was correct that they were reluctant to believe what their correspondents were telling them.
An American network reporter gave a live eyewitness account of the damage caused by American bombs hitting the Bin Ashur residential neighborhood here Tuesday morning. A few moments later he heard his anchor explaining to the American people that, of course, the correspondent had been allowed to see only what the Libyans wanted him to see.
At the time, Washington was denying it had hit the area. The anchor's tone suggested that somehow the shambles of Bin Ashur was staged.
The correspondent buried his head in his arms.
Amid such frustrations for western reporters here -- the long blacked-out nights working by flashlight, and the endless effort of sorting out the differences between what they see and what both Washington and Tripoli claim -- the Libyan government's press tours went on.
Yesterday, the "program," as Libyan officials like to call their bus excursions, was a trip to the outskirts of a town near Tripoli's civilian and military airports.
We were shown a citrus grove and an olive grove, arrayed bits of shrapnel and an unexploded 481-pound bomb dug out from under a fig tree to demonstrate that once again the pinpoint accuracy of American bombing was not all that had been claimed by Washington.
But since there was no trip to the military airport itself, there was no way of knowing how many bombs did hit their targets.
In the town, there was nothing of the pathos that still lingers in Bin Ashur, where at least four bombs fell and where survivors were busy today moving furniture out of their shattered homes.
Later yesterday afternoon, two children and a man examining an unexploded projectile -- possibly American, possibly a Libyan rocket that fell back to earth -- were injured when it blew up.
Journalists tired quickly of the guided tours taking them from one set of bomb craters to the next.
"This is like a golf course," said Dieter Bauer, a photographer for the West German weekly Stern, today. "From hole to hole we are traveling."
As the crowd of camera crews and photographers has grown, the pushing and shoving for camera angles has led to some embarrassing and some ugly situations.
Stumbling ahead of the pack through a bombed out mess hall at the Sidi Bilal naval school today, a French woman photographer fell waist-deep into the septic tank.
Offered condolences -- upwind and from a distance -- she shrugged. "These things happen sometimes," she said and kept on shooting.
At a hospital for the civilian wounded this morning, journalists jamming the wards got so rough at one point that at least one patient had an intravenous tube ripped from his arm.
For the moment the fears of the press corps itself, genuine and intense in the first days after the bombing, have subsided. And as 125 more journalists arrived here last night they were regaled with anecdotes about the trials and traumas of coverage in Libya.
There was the British correspondent off drinking at a diplomat's house when the air strike began at 2 a.m. Tuesday. Virtually comatose from alcohol as the shock of the blasts swept over the city, he and a friend managed to stagger back to the Grande Hotel through the darkened streets. Then he decided to wander back out again, only to be stopped by a machine-gun-toting guard. Finally, he wended his way back to the kitchen, vacant of its terrified Moroccan workers.
"Does anyone have a cup of tea?" he asked.
Early in the week, many American and British journalists worried that at any moment they could become hostages of an angry Libyan government.
"The best we could do if [Libyan leader Muammar] Qaddafi was killed," said one of the region's most experienced and more relentlessly gloomy American correspondents, "is barbed-wire camps in the desert." He shook his head. "That's the best."
The telexes died. Phone lines were few and only the American networks were able to keep them open with any success, so reporters wandered the halls of the hotel from one network office to the next trying to cadge a few minutes of filing time.
Every so often their reports would be interrupted in the night by the eruption of antiaircraft batteries across the city. Everything would, once again, go dark as the hotel operators -- perhaps from fear, perhaps for security reasons -- simply pulled the plugs on all the phones.
Such delicate questions as internal political dissension in Libya are perhaps the most difficult to report accurately. Diplomats are the most common sources and virtually every one of them tends to give a different interpretation based mainly on his own political prejudices. As often as not these days they are to be seen in the hotels seeking out reporters in hope that the correspondents know more than they do.
Travel is limited and one reporter, The New York Times' Judith Miller, was turned back at the airport yesterday when everyone else was allowed into the country. "She is on the black list," said one Information Ministry official. Another denied it. Another said she had personally offended people here in earlier visits. Still another said she had written "bad" articles.
Television footage is censored before it is fed by satellite to the world's networks, and there is never any predicting what will be cut. Before the bombing, Cable News Network shot a street scene of a man loading a refrigerator onto a truck.
"I know what you will do to that," said the censor at the satellite station, and out it went. No one else has yet figured out what he knew.
But after the bombing, certain facts were clear enough to see: the tracks of craters across Qaddafi's living quarters, the crumbled houses at Bin Ashur.
And not until reports in Washington of Qaddafi's death proved greatly exaggerated did the tension between the official U.S. government line and such realities as can be seen here begin to subside.
By Friday, a kind of routine settled in around the Grande Hotel and nerves calmed. Thursday had proved the last of three nights running in which clocks could be set by the 9 p.m. eruption of ack-ack and surface-to-air missiles. People were starting to get some sleep. The lights worked, if not the phones. And the media, swelled by new arrivals, regained some of their accustomed cynicism, humor and crassness.
At a mass funeral yesterday, one British television crew caved in a grave overlooking the burials. Undaunted, the high-heeled correspondent proceeded to straddle it, rather shakily, to do her standup.
At the town near the airports today, an old farmer shouted "Reagan!," raving with anger before the lenses of at least 30 cameras. "Reagan!" he screamed as about 200 journalists milled around his olive grove examining bomb craters and bits of shrapnel. "Reagan is a chicken killer!"
"Tell Reagan thank you very much for killing all my chickens," said the old man. "The chickens were asleep and now they are all buried."