John Edwards is asked about the issues facing women in America at a high school town hall in New Hampshire…by a high school student.

On Sunday, I highlighted the results from several new studies regarding press coverage of the Presidential race in 2008 — and the public’s dissatisfaction with the nonsubstantive, pretend horse race qualities and manufactured brouhahas that have come to represent what we call “newsworthy” these days. Something about the press role in shaping that horse race in a recent campaign vignette article in TNR caught my eye yesterday:

…Ask Edwards’s strategists why he’s so far labored to make the Democratic contest a three-way race, and they’ll cite two reasons: money and the press. To this point, they say, the race has been defined by two celebrity candidates who’ve raised ungodly amounts of cash, with whom the press has been endlessly preoccupied.

The money problem Edwards believes is surmountable. Beyond optimism per se, Edwards’s legal career repeatedly taught him that fair-minded people can be persuaded by a compelling message even when the other side has nearly unlimited resources, as was frequently the case with the companies he sued.

As for the press, well, that’s another story. “The difference between a jury and politics is that the jury is a very controlled environment. … Equal access to the jury–that’s a battle I win,” he says. “Politics is different, because the media controls access. And the result is, if every nanosecond they’re talking about Senator Clinton or Senator Obama or another candidate, then it’s hard to be heard.” Then he breaks into a smile: “The thing that’s different is the debate. … If all America knew about the eight of us is what they saw in the debate on Tuesday night, or in the debates in general, you would see very different numbers.”

Now, this isn’t just applicable to Edwards, it is all the other candidates in the field as well who haven’t gotten nearly the press that the Clinton and Obama “horse race” has. And, to be fair, Edwards has gotten for more press than Dennis Kucinich on his best day…so this is all fairly relative in a lot of ways. But when a lot of your press coverage focused on your haircut and not on your stance on…pick a subject…I’m almost tempted not to count any of that just on principle.

All this to say that the public sees what they are directed to see by a press corps that makes its decisions on what to cover based on sometimes very sensational and often far-too-manufactured criteria based on print sales or ratings wars…and far too infrequently based on what is good for the public or what we really need to know.

I was thinking about this last night in the context of the 20 million single women that WVWV estimates did not vote in the 2004 elections. It isn’t as though politics doesn’t impact their lives. Hell, all I have to say is “Supreme Court Justices” and you guys could rattle off a whole host of cases that we’ve discussed in the past year that have immediate impact on a range of everyday issues. And a presidential election has the power to make enormous changes on the court where there are vacancies. (Let there be no more for the next two years, please…)

There has to be some way to energize people to vote. By not doing so, enormous opportunities for forcing changes in our system simply dissipate. For women, this upcoming election can have enormous long-term consequences on a whole range of issues, just based on Supreme Court justice nominees and the fact that the next President will likely have one if not two bites at that apple. This is huge. But how do you get that across? How do you energize people to vote their interests? And how do you break through the idiotic “who would you rather have a beer with” tone of so much reporting?

We need changes, not some continued shaping of the facts to fit the preconceived narratives. And we need it fast.

(Note to any reading press folks: This? Not so much. [H/T Digby])