EDITORIAL | ‘Man in Tree’ no shade from Seattle mindset

It speaks volumes that Seattleites were more captivated by a man who climbed an 80-foot sequoia tree in the middle of Downtown Seattle and stayed there for 25 hours than by the visit of presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton surely caused traffic backups by zigzagging from Seattle’s Boeing Field to Everett’s Boeing plant, Puyallup, Medina and then Rainier Beach — a pattern similar to that of the Chinese president last fall — and closing major thoroughfares in transit. But the story of the 28-year-old, red-bearded man high up in the tree caused enough curiosity to distract those who would presumably get stuck in traffic. In fact, there weren’t any extraordinary traffic tie-ups with Clinton’s visit.

With the lead-up to the following weekend’s Democratic caucus, Seattleites should have been focused on the candidates. But perhaps with the visits by other members of the Clinton family campaigning in the area, followed by an unrelated visit by Vice President Joe Biden, we’ve gotten burned out.

So enamored were we with “Man in Tree” — later identified as Cody Lee Miller, who has a history of mental illness and criminal records in Oregon and here — that he got his own Twitter hashtag and streaming video footage by one Seattle news outlet. KOMO News amassed 420,000 viewers, assistant news director Nathan Wilson announced on Twitter; Clinton’s Everett rally only reached 2,800 screens.

We might never know Man in Tree’s reason for climbing the tree, but it certainly wasn’t his intention to steal the spotlight: Early on, he yelled at rescuers to spend taxpayers’ money elsewhere since he didn’t consider himself an emergency.

Maybe the political climate in Seattle is such that the Man in Tree overshadowed Clinton’s visit because state Democrats had already mentally cast their votes for Clinton opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — as evidenced with the results of the state caucus. Maybe Man in Tree was also a Sanders supporter?

Man in Tree also showed Seattleites our own apathy toward the world around us. While some tweeted their lament at Man in Tree’s destruction of the sequoia tree he roosted in (he stripped off the treetop, causing $7,800 in damage, according to a Seattle Department of Transportation urban forester), it was in sharp contrast the recent discovery of the illegal cutting of more than 150 trees in a city greenbelt in West Seattle — no one noticed it until months after it occurred.

While we were getting an eyeful of Man in Tree during his sojourn in the sequoia tree, we also got a side glimpse into ourselves. While not the spectacle that required the closure of a major downtown intersection for more than a day, it was just as puzzling to discover what was deserving of our attention: one man’s accidental reality TV show.