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

Also on the CNN Political Ticker

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– All tied up ahead of second Obama-Romney showdown

– 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. Thomas

    I think it's an old Mormon term used when one is looking for a new wife. "whole binders full of women".

    October 17, 2012 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  2. Tex71

    Well, this illustrates Romney's concept of his fellow Americans: sheets of data to be stored in ledgers. Numerical values on every one.
    How much is your dollar value? Ask Romney; he's got you in a binder somewhere.

    October 17, 2012 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  3. Lizzie

    Kate, that won't be the democrats party, see how they treated Hillary. They don't even want a female VP.

    October 17, 2012 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  4. Vote 2012

    Old School Women's Lib Movement called men like Mitt Romney a "male chauvinist pig"

    October 17, 2012 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  5. David Broadbent

    CNN, slight error: The Lt. Governor of Massachusetts is a separately elected office, so it's a thin statement that Kerry Healey was the highest ranking member of the Romney administration.

    But the point remains: he ineptly provided the wrong answer to the pay equality question.

    October 17, 2012 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  6. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Remember the not too long ago days when Romney wasn't connecting with ANYONE, much less women?
    I say to the women (and everyone else): go with your gut instinct.

    October 17, 2012 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  7. SickofMediaBias

    Really, CNN, it's not bad enough what Candy Crowley did last night by injecting herself into the debate. You have to pick on Romney's "binder full of women" comment???? The point he made is valid. Liberals talk about fairness, but the conservatives generally have a more diverse group of people around them. I guess Obama only thinks Jewish men have valid credentials (nothing against Jewish people, just pointing out the total hypocrasy).

    PLEASE go find some REAL NEWS!! The President LIED to the American people and the world through his speech at the UN almost 2 weeks after the incident deflecting it all upon a VIDEO. He INCITED VIOLENCE in the Middle East by constantly pointing to this video that no one seemed to know about until after the attack. If this were a Republican, you would have reporters camped out outside of the Whitehouse, the State Department and wherever Hillary Clinton is at the moment. You needed to send armies of people to check out Sarah Palin's outfits, garbage, children's friends, you name it. That is the REAL anti-women stance. I had thought Candy Crowley was somewhat fair, but she just had to show her true colors...couldn't help herself. John King is the only remaining person on the CNN staff that seems to be unbiased. Not sure how long that will last, but every other person on the air is in the tank for Obama and the Democrats. That's why your ratings are SO BAD. I hope this last disgusting acts sends CNN into BANKRUPTCY just like the car companies went into during the Obama administration.!

    October 17, 2012 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  8. NameTeri

    Umm... Kim Kardashian said she was supporting Romney and in MA the Lieutenant Governor is elected not appointed, so Romney did not select Kerry Healy. Maybe you should "do a little work and check the facts out".

    October 17, 2012 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  9. reese

    Obama panders to "jerry springer" women and said so when he labeled us as needing equal pay because we are down and implying its because we don't have a man to take care of us. I strongly disagree and take offense to his response last night. Romneys reflection showed me he sought women applicants because he feels they are just as qualified for high earning positions and never once mentioned their need to pay the bills and take care of the children.

    October 17, 2012 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  10. Anonymous

    Actually it was the women's group that suggested to Romney that he appoint more women. He of course did not really know any qualified women even though he had been in politics and CEO of Bain for how long? Amazing. Then he makes the assumption that the women had to go home early to cook dinner. And the capper is the remark re single parents being cause of gun violence. This guy is his own worst enemy. He apparently thinks everybody out in the real world is 1. Mormon and 2.not capable of using computer for fact checks.

    October 17, 2012 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  11. coolbreeze

    Mitts equal opportunity for women- Get OFF work early so that you can go home and cook!

    October 17, 2012 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  12. Anonymous

    I think it is just plain stupid to try to psychoanalyze what might not have been the best choice of words at that moment. I truly believe that Romney is just as fair to women as anyone else would be. On another note, my husband and I both thought it was "funny" when Obama said he has two daughters, and something to imply he would only want the best for them. (As if two young ladies growing up in that household will not automatically have more opportunities for successful lives than 99.999% of all people in this country, whether male or female.

    October 17, 2012 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  13. Indy

    I love how all of Romneys wimpy supporters are calling out Candy for correcting both Obama and Rude Romney and saying that Romney had to debate two people when Obama clearly had to debate the several personalities of Mitt Romney, the severely conservative,the moderate republican,the RHINO,the right wing Mitt,the liar

    October 17, 2012 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  14. clubschadenfreude

    Binders full of women? That seems less than true and I'm sure it is. I'm still waiting for Romney and Ryan to tell us how they would punish women who dare to try to get an abortion or who might be suspect for causing their own miscarriage. Will they strap them to gurneys so they can't possibly do anything against the "personhood" nonsense that both R/R support? Will they put them in prison since the anti-abortion people call it murder? Which version of Mitt Romney will be in the White House if he wins? Which side has he lied to more?

    October 17, 2012 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  15. Pi Boson

    I truly feel bad for those that are blinded by Romney's deceit. Romney has completely lost any moral compass from his "years of running businesses" and his 5 point plan requires a decade to get the millions of job numbers he pontificates; not to mention Romney's "tough on China" is so outdated, like his equality for females, that there really are no jobs as China is outsourcing to Vietnam since it is too expensive in China. Obama's plan is working and the minority need to get over their hate of President Obama.

    October 17, 2012 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  16. Cindy

    His intentions may have been fine, but his delivery was awful. Instead of mentioning that he may attract more highly qualified women by having flexibility for family time (and how this flexibility would also be good for men with families), he talked about women being able to leave early to go make dinner. He has a good point about the importance of a strong economy, but it sounded like he was saying that a strong economy will make companies be willing to hire women – i.e. desperate enough – and that men are the natural first choice. His answer came across as a backhanded compliment to women. And he never answered the question about pay equality. With his delivery so horrible, it makes me wonder if he's coming from too much of a 1950's mind frame.

    October 17, 2012 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  17. LeeS

    As a woman, I am not going to read into what words the media is trying to put in Mitt Romney's mouth. I think his intentions were very good. I understood it to mean that there are so many talented, smart, and qualified women that he had a ton of woman to choose from. If anyone has ever been in a hiring position and gone out looking for candidates to fill a job opening, you typically start with a stack of resumes . I took his comment to mean exactly that. If you ask yourself honestly - you would admit that his words were not offensive or sexist. He was telling America how many smart and qualified women are in the workplace. I think we need to be thankful that in this counrty the number of females in the workplace and number of women wanting to be in the workplace continue to be strong.

    October 17, 2012 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  18. glades2

    Kate,

    Sorry but Mormon teaching is based on the Bible – if more women stayed home and raised their children insteasd of worrying about the glass ceiling, our prisons would be empty instead of overflowing – Biblical teaching is correct, and the Church understands that in cases of single parents a women must work, but if her husband works and children are involved, then a woman should stay home and raise her children until they are at least in high school...

    October 17, 2012 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  19. JR in TX

    Binders full of women? Romney is out of touch with technology. Men now have the internet.........click, click, click......naked women!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 17, 2012 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  20. Leftcoastrocky

    wonder if in addition to evening gown photos the binder also includes swim suit photos?

    October 17, 2012 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  21. Vote 2012

    I wonder what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is saying about that stupid comment he made. President Obama did the right thing during the first debate, layed low, set Mitt Romney up and came back with a knock out punch last night. No rope-a-dope just a straight TKO, it was over in the first round, Mitten was done. He looked like a fool jumping off that stool every two second, charging at Candy Crowley trying to intimidate her just like bullies do/he's a bully. The guy is a hyper hot mess!

    October 17, 2012 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  22. SickofMediaBias

    Kate, Your party stopped the possibility of two women from going to the Whitehouse in the last election!! Really, your guy needed to pick someone like that idiot Biden to be VP and not Hillary Clinton??? I'm a woman and have lived through sexism. I can see plainly where the true anti-women people are based upon their actions. You can pass Lily Ledbetter acts all you want, but it doesn't matter if you don't have a job to begin with!!! All talk and NO ACTION!

    October 17, 2012 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  23. Marcko

    Binders full of women? Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler...

    October 17, 2012 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  24. bob

    If he had to go looking for women to use, it says something about what he thinks about women. He didn't need or want them in his business before this. This far along in his life and career, he should have had a few competent female names in his rollerdex without having to go looking for some.

    October 17, 2012 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  25. Scott

    It is absolutely ridiculous the technical nitpicking forced by media and uneducated "political followers" in regards to this election. First and foremost the majority of the voters do not do independent research and educate themselves on each candidate. How about we stop taking every word or phrase to grave and learn what each candidate stands for, specific policies. The idea that Romney's answer to equality is women in binders is ABSOLUTELY INSANE. Obama has had his fare share of misinterpretations or misrepresentations and the argument needs to be equal across the spectrum. STOP nitpicking America and formulate your own opinion based on FACTS, not hear say and media elaboration.

    October 17, 2012 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
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