(CNN) - In the thousands of words spoken in Tuesday's presidential debate, it was four awkwardly phrased ones that set the Internet afire: Binders full of women.
In response to a question on gender pay inequality Romney said that as he was assembling his cabinet after being elected governor in Massachusetts, he questioned his staff for sending him only male applicants and was told those were all who were qualified.
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"I went to a number of women's groups and said, 'Can you help us find folks,' and they brought us whole binders full of women," Romney said.
Before the debate was over, there was a Twitter hashtag, a series of memes on Tumblr, and a Facebook page with over 100,000 fans. The phrase was the third-fastest rising search on Google during the debate.
It prompted memes, such as Hugh Hefner in what appears to be a library: "Binders full of women? Oh sure, I've got hundreds of them."
READ MORE: 'Binders full of women' is debate's viral hit
The Obama campaign was in on it as well: a paid post from President Barack Obama's official campaign account appeared atop searches for "binders full of women" on Twitter.
In the second question of the night, voter Katherine Fenton queried Obama: "In what new ways to you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?"
The incumbent cited the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was the first piece of legislation he signed into law.
Romney, who worked in business, then served as governor of Massachusetts, said he "learned a great deal" about the inequalities between men and women in the workplace when chief executive of his state.
"I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men," Romney said. And I – and I went to my staff, and I said, 'How come all the people for these jobs are – are all men?' They said, "Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.' "
Romney said he requested "a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet."
Then, the sound bite which drove the online chatter.
The tweets and posts quickly stacked up.
I'd love to see the meeting minutes from that roundtable. #bindersfullofwomen— David Weller (@dcweller) October 17, 2012
I'd love to see the meeting minutes from that roundtable. #bindersfullofwomen
Kate Segal, whose Twitter bio says she is the Democratic floor leader in the Michigan House of Representatives, took a political angle.
To solve the problem of pay inequality we don't need more 'binders full of women,' we need more ballots full of women. #BallotsNotBinders— Kate Segal (@KateSegal) October 17, 2012
To solve the problem of pay inequality we don't need more 'binders full of women,' we need more ballots full of women. #BallotsNotBinders
Among the memes was at least one using an image of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in sunglasses which went viral earlier this year.
"Romney still uses binders," the meme reads, as Clinton looks at her cell phone.
Another showed Romney speaking at a podium with a stack of ring binders next to him.
In the debate, the former governor credited his outreach effort with his mix of department heads.
"Now one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort," he said. "But number two, because I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school."
The highest-ranking woman in his administration was his number two, Lieutenant Gov. Kerry Healey.
But in the social media sphere, yes, puns are permitted: a post to a "Binders Full Of Women" Facebook page read, "Trapper Keeper jokes are appropriate."
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Romney was referring to resumes – don't be obtuse
But obtuse is what the left is so good at! That and speaking half-truths, and taking things out of context.
"Binders full of women" are you serious?This guy is a joke. I was undecided until last night. I'm voting today.
I feel Obama has set me back a decade by all the contraceptive talk that I endured during the 70's and have over the years talked to our daughter about. We all get offered top jobs around the country and now get let into some pretty prestigous clubs you were once not allowed to get into. Don't think a man like Romney would even think of trying to set us women back in time. Have all you women been sleeping or what!
I like to fire people, especially binders full of women.
"When you employ women you have to be flexible. Because they have to go home at night to cook dinner"
Long live the CEO n Chief. Keep talking Mitt.
Romney is a good man! The demos are pulling at straws to beat Mitt. It is not going to happen. They will replay every work that comes out of Mitt's mouth and try to make him look bad. The democrats need to get over it, your time has come to an end!
When Romney, who is a member of the Mormon church (think plural marriage) said he had "binders full of women" I swear I could hear Jon Stewart sit up straight and giggle.
I think he meant "women are in a bind" when it comes to equal pay.
Is this really the state of our political discourse? Grade school ridicule? I don't particularly like either candidate, but we deserve better from our news media... and frankly from ourselves.
I don't see any of you solving any of the issues. I suggest you all shut up and go vote. Let your vote be your voice and stop actin like pre-teens on the playground.
MR is so not-up-to-date. It's pathetic. I am almost embarrassed for him.
Absolutely amazing the level of STUPIDITY out there. We have 23 million people suffering for real and they are men, women, old, young, lower level, middle level, white, black, and every other color truly suffering and the world in general in chaos all due to the FAILED policies of this President and the most intelligent and sophisticated *cough* among us want to talk about "binders"????? Yes, this is where we are today in America and God forbid anyone should make a derogatory comment about 47% of the people. HA! Just read the tweets on this nonsense. Priorities??? What's that??? Please.
Hey, MR: Open mouth, insert foot. Repeat as much as possible.
I didn't expect to say this: Romney is a man for business, not the man to lead people in such a manner: choosing his words carefully of what to say and not; using diplomacy. This is what qualified politicians do. He is not a politician though he is trying to fit himself there. It won't work. He doesn't fit in this category.
The liberal media is really grasping for straws. We know by the context of his phrase that he was referring to resumes. Even when I refer to a resume, I will say, this guy looks good or this woman looks promising. Clearly, I am inferring the person from the piece of paper and not thinking that the piece of paper is a person! Only a complete tool would take it to mean more.
Romney said that it is better to have two parents raising children. I have news for you Mitt – NOT all single mothers intend to be a single parent. They do want to have an education and high pay jobs while raising children. Women's rights to choose and have access to contraception are significants to help women get out of poverty and stop having unwanted children. You do not understand women's issues and stop pretending you care. Go back to your multi-million dollars mansion and sign off. Obama/Biden 2012.
My gosh – who would take this LITERALLY but the democrats! Not issues, but this comment?!?! Pathetic!!!
This is nonsense, a huge part of the Democratic playbook is to create and enrage "victim groups" like women, gays, minorities, etc and then turn that rage against their opponents. (It's actually a tactic created by Jewish intellectuals of the Frankfurt School in the 1950s)
Romney has created more jobs for women than Obama ever has (or will) His main political partner was Lt Governor Kerry Healy. Obama is destroying our economy and anyone who thinks that benefits women is a fool.
For Tom Foreman
Jobs and racism
Racism is to perceive the other as a lower being in dignity. How is it that there are so many people who have abandoned the search a job to be able to properly live their family and their children because they were criticism by others because of their difference?
I don't care who the jobs go to, me or Romney's Binder full of women. The one and only relevant question is this:
Mr. President, where are the jobs? Your answer to that is literally the only defining moment of this campaign.
Well Mr. President? I didn't hear the answer last night... You have almost 3 weeks left to tell us where they are and when exactly they get here.
The American People
It would be nice and thoughtful if all of the liberals would consider the death of an ambassador and three other Americans as important as Romney's statements about his efforts to hire women. To my liberal friends (and liberal CNN) - why aren't you more concerned about the numerous misstatements made by the president and his administration in the Libya aftermath?
Ahhh...the BINDER comment. That was the technology of that time so it is funny to read of the SHORT memories or the ignorance surrounding our advancement over the last few decades- I will say this as a HR (Human Resources for tyhose of you who understaood personnel and now Human Capital instead) manager of that time – if he did in fact do this he was ahead of his time and I will imagine take heat for AFFIRMATIVE ACTION practices in his own party. This is a game changer for me. If he did in fact do this, one must remember that even if it was at a lower wage, he made it possible for women to move into the areas where they make compensation and benefit decisions. Women making such decisions will do what no law can do and that is to actually pay women fairly becasue those would be the rules of the company. This is not a tiny thing. It is an evolutionary thing that promotes and improves the workplace for women then, now and in the future as women gain more corporate power which they are doing and one could see if they really cared to check the facts. Hmmm...seems to me if a man wanted to keep women at home, he would do quite the opposite. Darn it stinks when deeds do not fit the image.
This won't move the needle much in Obama's favor, though it may slightly. It's about the economy. When people go to the polls, they'll be thinking about the obscene prices of gas,groceries and rising costs of utilities and will make a decision based on those issues. I don't think people will give much pause about 'binders full of women'. People vote their pocketbooks.
If the media folks at CNN or anywhere else don't understand that their senior management and HR people have binders with their performance reviews and assessments of their likelihood of being promoted or moved to a new position, they are naive. Every business has them, even media companies. Anyone who works for a living should know that.