"The founders didn't want, and I don't think we want, any bill or law or idea to breeze through Congress without a vigorous, and for that reason, grubby, debate," then-Weekly Standard staff writer Tucker Carlson told C-SPAN's "Saturday Journal" host Lew Ketcham. "That is the way the system should, and does work."
So it went. No yelling or cursing. No demonizing or demagoguing. When a chipper caller from Salt Lake City mistakenly referred to liberal magazine "Mother Jones" as "Mother Goose" while asking a question about corporate welfare, the malapropism caused 26-year-old Carlson to visibly swallow a sheepish smile.
Observed through the lens of now, the long-forgotten interview and call-in segment — as of today, the online clip of Carlson's C-SPAN debut has just 624 views during the past 27 1/2 years — is preposterous.
The Carlson of 2023 ranks among the most polarizing men in America, perhaps second only to former President Donald Trump — lionized by millions of conservatives for his bombastic Fox News broadcasts that detractors describe as a cesspool of racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. Carlson's anti-vaccine preaching, election conspiracy-promoting, Jan. 6 insurrection-denying shows were also huge business for Fox News — until the network fired him last month amid numerous controversies, including a discrimination lawsuit and revelations of racist text messages.
"I had no idea how evil he would turn out to be. No idea," author and journalist William Saletan, then a Mother Jones reporter who shared the C-SPAN studio with Carlson that morning, recalled to Raw Story. "And I don't think anything in that in that conversation prepared me for that."
William Saletan (l), Tucker Carlson (c) and C-SPAN host Lew Ketcham (r) appear on "Saturday Journal" the morning of Dec. 30, 1995.
Carlson's first C-SPAN interview "was notable for not being notable," Saletan said. "He didn't say anything that that was anything off the kind of standard path for what a mid-1990s conservative magazine writer might say about policy or politics."
So what happened to Carlson during the three ensuing decades, as he hopscotched his way from CNN to PBS to MSNBC to the Daily Caller to Fox News?
Saletan grew biblical.
"I'm kind of an Old Testament guy. I think that nobody makes you evil. You just are. And I'm sorry to say that," he said. "But ... I think somebody like him, he had to have had a core of vice, of viciousness, that he either disguised from others, from himself, from his audience. Maybe he suppressed it because you just couldn't say those kind of things out loud and have a career. But as soon as he could have a career and say those things, he started saying them."
Saletan continued: "Anyone watching him today, there's no way to describe that objectively other than mean, vicious, malignant, hateful. He just loves to humiliate people. He's like the kid in grade school who would find anything that he could pick on about you. And if it was your ethnicity, or your religion, that's what he would choose. That's the way he functions. He's a child. He's just absolutely a mean child with an adult job. He probably he had that in him all along."
Carlson could not be reached for comment. But in a video he posted on Twitter after his firing from Fox News, Carlson held court about the concept of truth.
"When honest people say what's true, calmly and without embarrassment, they become powerful. At the same time, the liars, who have been trying to silence them, shrink and they become weaker. That's the iron law of the universe. True things prevail. Where can you still find Americans saying true things? There aren’t many places left, but there are some. And that’s enough. As long as you can hear the words, there is hope."
Carlson also bemoaned how "undeniably big topics" facing the nation — war, civil liberties, science, demographic changes, corporate power, natural resources — are no longer discussed.
"When was the last time you've heard a legitimate debate about any of those issues? It's been a long time," Carlson said. "Debates like that are not permitted in American media."
Carlson, who last appeared on a C-SPAN-produced program in 2018, must've not checked the network's policy- and issue-heavy schedule lately.
What does Saletan, now a writer with The Bulwark, believe Carlson will do next with himself?
"If he thinks it was all a game, he'll probably sit there and collect his severance or whatever he got from Fox," Saletan said. "On the other hand, if he's sincere about this stuff, he might start his own media operation and say, what the hell? I don't have to answer to Rupert Murdoch or corporate executives any more. So I'm going to talk all the time about how the Muslims and the Mexicans are taking over our country."