October 16th, 2012
10:55 PM ET
2 years ago

Internet goes wild over 'Binders full of women'

(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.

"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.

The tweets and posts quickly stacked up.

Kate Segal, whose Twitter bio says she is the Democratic floor leader in the Michigan House of Representatives, took a political angle.

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."

READ MORE: Funniest tweets on the second presidential debate

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– Obama ad makes case for economic policies

– Romney message this week: 'A clear choice on debt and deficits'

– Largely hidden away, Obama reports debate prep 'going great'


Filed under: 2012 • Debate • Mitt Romney
soundoff (846 Responses)
  1. Really?

    It would be nice if the article mentioned his story isn't even factual. A number of bipartisan women's groups had prepared the binders prior to the election to hand to whoever won. He didn't ask for them, they were given to him unsolicited.

    October 17, 2012 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  2. terryrayc

    This was a draw...which wasn't what Obama needed. Both failed the truth tests, both went overboard at times, both dodged questions.

    However regarding the binders comment, I'd have to say the left is getting worried if this is all they have to say. ANYONE and I mean ANYONE with 1/3 a brain knows what he meant. If you do not I'm not going to waste my time trying to explain it to you.

    October 17, 2012 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  3. Derp

    This is ridiculous. Romney clearly made an effort and did the leg work, something Obama refuses to do.

    And yes, if you refuse to hire women they will never be qualified. It's the same idea with minorities. It's easiest to see in the NFL. In the NFL since they never allowed Black HCs for the longest time no Black HCs were ever qualified. Instead the NFL would just keep hiring from the same good old boys carousel. The NFL had to create the Rooney Rule to even get Black coaches interviews.

    There was a lot of opposition to the rule and grandstanding against it. A lot of teams would hire awful coaches like Mike Tice or Tony Sparano rather than give a Mike Tomlin or Ron Rivera a chance. Well things slowly changed, as the latter two got their chances and showed they were great coaches, while the former two continued to bungle around and fail.

    It's the same at anything. If you block off entire groups of people of course they won't have experience. Make a concentrated effort, allow the best to shine, and that opens a floodgate, and also gives you a huge competitive advantage. The Steelers are probably still laughing that half the franchises in the NFL are both racist and inept.

    October 17, 2012 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  4. Anonymous

    Hey, im just happy the current president showed up for this debate lol . And stop taking things out of context people. Stop being closed minded and realize President Obama has failed on the few things he has tried to accomplish. Romney/Ryan 12

    October 17, 2012 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  5. CarlWstCoast

    And by the way, I agree with those who point out that the president actually answered the question that was posed, and Mr. Romney did not.

    The question was not "How did you ensure that qualified women served in your cabinet?", but rather "What would you do to ensure that women in the workforce receive equal pay for equal work?" The fact that Mr. Romney either didn't understand what was being asked or chose to ignore it and answer a different question is disappointing.

    October 17, 2012 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  6. mho

    Romney made a special effort to recruit women, even though there were many qualified men around him – sounds like an Affirmative Action move. Bravo Romney for supporting Affirmative Action. Not sure your party will like it, but I do.

    October 17, 2012 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  7. Observer

    Obviously a completely fudged answer. Romney is a dinosaur. He's old guard. When people think of the quintessential "boys club" archetype of the American businessman, that's exactly Romney! He's the last hope for the Repubs and right wing to try to perpetuate the economic inequality and social division that have been the hallmark of the Republican regime for the last 20 or so years.

    But, in all seriousness, let's all take a moment to lament our friends at the top of the 1 percent, because they will once again be tortured, burdened, persecuted, and ultimately, they'll be asked to pay the same tax rate as (cue the scary music) the CLINTON YEARS!!!! Everybody panic!!!! How will our economy function when our nations wealthiest have to settle for 5 million instead of 7. Hard times I know, but we'll make it.

    October 17, 2012 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  8. Felicitous

    Since when is it "old-fashioned", as CNN's newswoman said this morning, for a woman to request flex time so she can care for her children. Where has this glamor girl newswoman been? She should issue an apology to all working women.

    October 17, 2012 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  9. Pi Boson

    Romney dismissed the 47% as free-loaders, now he has "binders" of women and distancing himself from pay equality, and finally the truth on his arithmatic error in job creation in which his cited references indicate at least 10 years to create the 10 million jobs, not to mention his outdated job creation by getting tough on China. Just so people know, China is outsourcing to Vietnam and Malaysia as it is getting too expensive in China. I experienced cost of business increases in China of 70% in the recent 30 months so jobs will naturally move around the globe. Romney's trickle-down has never worked on now the FACTS on his 5 point plan DO NOT add up.

    October 17, 2012 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  10. Jason

    Seriously? Thats pretty pathetic that the best thing people can come up with is Ronmey's 'binders of women' comment. Doesn't anyone understand English? Groups prepared candidates and gave them to him in binders. Why is this even a story?

    No wonder our country is f'ed when the average voter thinks this is an issue or something even worthy of bringing up.

    October 17, 2012 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  11. UDidntBuildThat

    So if Romney hates women so much and believe women's role is in the kitchen or doing laundry, HOW COME HIS LIUETENANT GOVERNOR WAS A FEMALE?
    So because Obama has daughters and Romney has only sons, that Obama has better served women. The only thing Obama has done for women is put them out of work and on food stamps!

    October 17, 2012 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  12. neoritter

    Really? We're harping on this? Seriously?

    You have to be sipping some sort of partisan koolaid to be focusing on this.

    October 17, 2012 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  13. Not this time

    I found it amusing that Mitt was bragging about all his business experience and it wasn't until he became a governor that he started worrying about hiring women... "And I said... aww gosh... we should see if them there women can work and still get home to make supper for the bread winner of the family."

    October 17, 2012 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  14. Observer

    The binders were prepared by women's groups before Romney took office. Upon which he was given. Facts are facts, Romney did not go out looking for binders full of women, it was brought to him. Just state the facts.

    October 17, 2012 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  15. johnnycisthewaytobe

    @terryrayc – what he meant is that he made an effort to include more women in his cabinet. Which is a lie. MassGAP and the Women's Caucasus went to him first and demanded that he include more women in his administration. He belittles their political achievement when he takes credit for it himself.

    October 17, 2012 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  16. One4REALchange

    Seeing the machinery behind the salesman’s smile

    “Mitt Romney, who can be a good salesman in the short run, if you listen long enough, if you study him close enough, you begin to see the sort of machinery of salesman behind the smile, and I think that’s the key thing that came out tonight.

    People having seen one version of Mitt Romney in the last debate that they kinda sorta mighta liked because it’s the first time they saw him standing next to the President this time they were listening more closely and with the help of the President uh, they dissected him in a way that he hadn’t been dissected before.” Great analysis by Howard Fineman

    October 17, 2012 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  17. midwest3

    Bottom line...the "binders full of women" statement is typical of Romeny's effort to SOUND like he has a vested interest in something he thinks will win him votes, but for which he has no genuine commitment. He's full of "talking points" he thinks will make him more appealing to voters, but when they come out of his mouth, there is no substance and come across clumsily, at best.

    October 17, 2012 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  18. Connie

    As a woman I take no offense by what Romney said, that's because I understood what he meant. I agree there are those who are getting pretty desperate trying to bring him down, but it's really not working. He will be excellent as the next President. All you really have to do is look at the last four years, without bias, things are not better. Why are there more people on food stamps if the economy was getting better?

    October 17, 2012 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  19. Vijay

    Romney is gone. He will join the debris of time as a person with no principles, no qualms about changing positions instantly.

    October 17, 2012 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  20. johnnycisthewaytobe

    OR, if we assume that Romney was telling the truth, then he went 25 years in business without meeting a single qualified woman? And he only first thought this was a problem when he had to pick a cabinet?

    October 17, 2012 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  21. Anonymous

    The binders were full of women that Romney could pay less then the men!

    October 17, 2012 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  22. Gurgyl

    Lies, lies of mitt the twit....baa, baa black sheep, have you got any wool.......

    October 17, 2012 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  23. lindaluttrell

    Typical Mittens...too funny! As I heard that comment the first time, I thought: How insulting! Women must not know how to look for jobs. And then I realized...Mitt was telling us how he "invented" EEO and Affirmative Action!

    October 17, 2012 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  24. Derp

    I find it more ridiculous that our government has to pander to women that refuse to do their jobs. As a man I would love to have the excuse that I need to go home at 5 PM everyday and then get flexible timing. That's pure discrimination against people that actually put the time in, both men and women. There are a lot of single men and women that put their careers first because that is their priority. It's absurd that those people have to be second class citizens to married women, who probably already have another income from their husbands.

    October 17, 2012 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  25. Taco

    Isn't it more curious that Mitt Romeny only learned about Women's inequality in the workforce in 2003 when he took Public Office? Wasn't he the CEO of a major corporation before that?

    October 17, 2012 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
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