The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media

By Anne Davies

Recently departed Labor foreign minister Bob Carr, a close student of American politics, has declared himself "delighted" with Rupert Murdoch's Fox News channel.

Not, however, for the normal reasons that a person might support the predominantly right-leaning US cable channel, owned by Rupert Murdoch.

"I am delighted because it is a textbook experiment in how to make the Republican Party unelectable," Mr Carr told the Public Knowledge Forum on Monday, an event hosted by Sydney University's US Studies Centre.

"If you are running as a candidate for the Republicans, you must do Fox News and you must pander to the table thumpers. By the time the general election comes around the candidate is too right wing to get elected. I think it is delightful," he said.

Mr Carr was sharing the stage with another man who revels in an extravagant turn of phrase, former press baron Conrad Black, who became Lord Black of Crossharbour in 2001.

Despite his three-and-a-half year stint in a Florida jail on convictions of mail fraud and obstruction of justice arising out of executive fees paid while he was chairman of the Hollinger group, the 68-year-old Black seemed unscarred by the experience, expressing no less strongly held opinions than when he was owner of newspapers from London to Australia, including the Fairfax Media group.

The two canvassed a range of topics, from Syria to US foreign policy to the performance of the Obama administration.

There were a few areas of agreement. Surprisingly, perhaps, Lord Black was critical of the US health system, noting that it was excellent for 70 per cent of the population, but poor for the remaining 30 per cent. "I am no socialist but it just won't do in a rich country," he said.

Sometimes the two men, who are on friendly terms, disagreed, though not strenuously. Mr Carr was supportive of the Obama administration's handling of the Syrian crisis; Mr Black thought Obama had let his diplomacy be hijacked by "Russian thugdom".

"Which is better, Conrad," said a genial Carr, "the George Bush approach or that of the Obama administration?"

"Bob, I will not be portrayed as an apologist for George Bush. I think he was a bonehead," Lord Black retorted.

But it was the US justice system, of which he has direct experience, that got Lord Black most steamed up.

"The justice system, which is close to the moral heart of a country, is an utter disgrace: a 99 per cent conviction rate, terribly severe sentences, a semi privatised prison system that is totally corrupt, and 98 per cent of cases settled without trial because of the plea bargain system.

"Yet generation after generation, the Supreme Court sits there drinking its own bath water. Where the hell have they been while their great Bill of Rights is being shredded," he said.

The only subject that Lord Black seemed not to hold a strong opinion about was the impact of Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels on newspapers.

"I don't do any of those things, so I am not the best person to ask," he said. Brandishing his mobile phone he declared that newspapers would live on because "no-one would want to read their newspaper on this."

This article was originally published at the The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media