U.S. officials took a lighter view of the events. "The president is someone who tends to delegate," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said at breakfast. "But every now and then, he's a hands-on kind of guy."
On Saturday night, a few dozen American journalists crowded into the networks' transmission room to watch tapes showing the altercation from different angles, with cheers erupting when a new version arrived.
Even before the pre-dinner altercation, U.S. officials had been joking that Bush's two days in Chile had occasionally seemed like a wrestling smackdown. APEC has 21 member countries, and tension inevitably results at international gathering when the U.S. president barges in with a small air force, an entourage of 260, a press corps of 100 and a motorcade of 20 vehicles.
The president is a stickler for decorum in his events, and Asian reporters had angered him Saturday morning when they bulldozed into a cramped room where he met with a parade of foreign leaders.
"Easy! Easy!" Bush chided as Chinese reporters knocked a 5-foot-9, 280-pound cameraman off a ladder.
The melee occurred as the American and Chinese press pools were ushered into the hotel room where Bush had just met with Chinese President Hu Jintao. As is typical of such White House shoots, journalists were brought in at the end of the meeting so the leaders could say a few words, and the president and his guests were already seated at the front of the room.
CNN's Mark Walz had his camera trained on Bush when a thundering herd of Asian reporters hit him in his blind spot. Walz, who has covered the White House since the last year of the Reagan administration, said it was the first time he had been knocked down. The cameraman landed on his feet and kept shooting, with an Asian reporter wedged under his right bicep.
Walz's colleagues commended him, both for keeping the camera on Bush and for not making a jerk of himself in front of the president. "I didn't want to embarrass myself or the American press by kicking it up a notch," he said.
In the hall afterward, a couple of pairs of journalists went at each other like a locker-room fight.
White House officials did not say much about the Chilean hospitality, but one aide ventured a prediction: Lagos need not watch his mail for an invitation to Bush's ranch.
Special correspondent Brian Byrnes contributed to this report.