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An Uncomfortable Tour of Duty : Books: On an East Coast trip promoting his new autobiography, Daryl Gates found himself in the spotlight--and he didn’t always like it.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Daryl Gates hates this.

For two days, he has stood unarmed and exposed before the voracious media.

“Your critics say . . . ,” Charlie Gibson began on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“Are you blameless?” Katie Couric continued on NBC’s “Today.”

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” . . . Serious lapses of leadership in your career?” Phil Donahue queried on his own program.

This week, the in-your-face Los Angeles police chief has offered himself up in East Coast media centers to hawk his book, “Chief: My Life in the LAPD.” And about the only complaint he had--other than that reporters usually get things wrong--was about the traffic and some cops in New York.

“His hair’s too long,” the chief wisecracked about a patrol officer on Fifth Avenue.

For the national media, the promotional tour provided the first opportunity since the Los Angeles riots to ask extended questions of Gates. And he seemed to loathe being in such an obviously vulnerable position: When a studio audience booed, he stiffened; when reporters contradicted him, he shook his head. His answers were short, direct, sharp.

This time, when the bombs were hurled, he had to let the fire land in his lap.

Like a wooden soldier, Gates remained erect in his creaseless suits and wildly colorful ties. He answered questions, signed a few books and made small talk in the green rooms where TV guests wait. At one point, he was standing by for “Good Morning America” with Olympic speed skater Bonnie Blair and Mel Harris, a star from “thirtysomething.” He seemed oblivious to the others. Rather, he was restless, ready for it all to be over.

“I’m enjoying this,” he insisted, though tentatively.

Later, he admitted he was “uncomfortable” doing something so commercial as selling a book. “Haven’t done anything commercial for 40 years,” he groaned.

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But all the forced pleasantries seemed worth it: People are snapping the book up, especially in Los Angeles. The first three days of sales earlier this month will put it No. 1 on the nonfiction hardcover bestseller list in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday and No. 2 in the same category in the New York Times on June 7, according to Stuart Applebaum, publicity chief at Bantam Books, Gates’ publisher.

Ironically, the Los Angeles riots may be the best thing that ever happened to author Gates. Applebaum balked at such a crass suggestion: “There’s long been interest in the chief and what he had to say.”

For himself, Gates responded defensively to the possibility that he was making money off of Los Angeles’ pain: “I hope I’m not capitalizing on it. I hope I’m capitalizing on a good book. I hope Gen (H. Norman) Schwarzkopf’s book sells millions and millions of copies, and I’m sure no one accused him of being happy about the Persian Gulf War.”

At one point, the chief dropped his own bomb when he revealed on the Donahue show that his son Scott, who has long had a heroin problem, overdosed on the second day of the riots. This got Donahue rolling--"It’s a wonder you’re still walking around!"--and the chief looked choked up.

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Nonetheless, the sad news about the younger Gates didn’t seem to change the views of many in the Donahue audience about the chief.

“That’s a tragedy about his kid, but I gotta tell you, I’m not surprised,” said Bob Gelman of Brooklyn. “The guy seems pretty tightly wound. That’s hard on a kid.”

Another audience member, Linda Dimitrio of suburban Westchester County, N.Y., said she wouldn’t read Gates’ book but she was glad he had his say on national TV. “After seeing him, I think I understand how he views the riots,” she said. “But I guess I would feel differently if I was black and lived in L.A.”

This week, Gates elicited different feelings than he usually does in in Los Angeles, where he is sometimes the subject of enmity on the streets. In New York, he was mostly ignored.

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Whether it was in front of Penn Station at rush hour or walking on Fifth Avenue, he was rarely recognized. In front of Rockefeller Center, he was stopped by a dapper man in a dark suit who took the chief’s hand and introduced himself as Doug Weintraub.

“You don’t know me,” the man said, “but you know my brother Jerry (the producer). I just want to say congratulations.”

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh also seemed to appreciate meeting Gates, who stopped in to see Limbaugh while he was at WABC studios to make yet another media appearance.

“You’re the one man my wife says she’d leave me for,” said an obviously impressed Gates as he shook Limbaugh’s hand.

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“Don’t worry, chief,” replied Limbaugh with a laugh. “You’re safe.”

Gates and Limbaugh--who is also penning a memoir--also discussed the difficulties of writing books. “I have a great respect for writers,” said Gates--though he made it clear that didn’t include most journalists.

The chief says he is considering adding a chapter about the riots for a later edition, following his scheduled retirement next month. “Both Diane (Shah, his collaborator) and I moan when we even think about another chapter,” he said. “But maybe. There is some more to say.”

Through the media circuit ride, from “Good Morning America” to “Larry King Live” in Washington, D.C., Gates delivered predictable fare: The LAPD did a good job putting down the riots; there was a plan to respond to civil disorder; he was not turning Lt. Mike Moulin, the field commander in charge of the area where the riots broke out, into a scapegoat; the media and his political detractors are as much to blame for negative images of the LAPD as he is.

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Couric, in her interview, observed, " . . . You’re leaving on such a downer.”

But Gates disagreed: “I don’t think so, Katie. I think some of the media suggest that.”

Occasionally, he showed glimmers of humor. After he complimented Mayor Tom Bradley on one morning show, he joked with Applebaum, “I can’t believe I said something nice about the mayor. I guess it’s ‘cause I haven’t had any coffee.”

Meanwhile, Gates danced a bit when he was asked about any political future. He could never be a politician, he said over and over, because “they’re so bland.” Mostly, he emphasized that he was looking forward to not having a minute-to-minute agenda after his retirement. “I just want to see what that’s like--what it feels like,” he mused.

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But he also indicated that if he didn’t like it, well, there would be things to do. When pressed by one local television reporter, he said slyly, “If I don’t like (retirement), maybe I’ll run for office. Well, only maybe.”


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