(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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Reality Check has it wrong. In the Rose Garden, the President GLOBALLY referred to terrorism but very clearly did NOT state that this action was an act of terror
LOL!! I see straws eluding your grasp. Act of terror = act of terror. Sorry if the facts are inconvenient for you....and Willard. Transcript doesn't lie.
Did he a "binder of women" when he was at Bain? If I recollect correctly, the management was all men.
The fact the Romney lies with such ease is a major concern, it is a sign of a spineless person without a core principles. Romney is a man who is definitely not presidential material, and it is astonishing that a large chunk of the American electorate gets fooled by him.
Binders Full of Women is what people latched onto? Are you kidding?
I guess, for Democrats, that's better than talking about the economy...
Waaaaaaah! The right spun "you didn't build that". Waaaaaaah! The Evil Right took Obama's words out of context! Waaaaaaaaaahhh!
I find it hard to believe that you people are stooping to this childishly low level. You vote, right? It's time you grow up.
The number ONE reason I am voting for our President is the 2010 congress. Never has a Congress hurt every day Americans so that congress can efect the electtion of the next President. This Congress is the most shameful in Americas great history.
Romney will never give equality to a women his Mormon religions says women should be home while man provide. So u do your maths.
My Binder in Bigger than yours!!!!
And your actual answer to the question about equal pay for women, or the Ledbetter act, is what Willard? Yay or nay? Next time please keep the swinger lifestyle answer to yourself and just provide a 1 word answer in terms of do you support equal pay for equal work.
He lost the debate and most likely any chance of victory. How stupid can a answer be? He showed us.
The problem is that Mitt Romney's religion flat out says that women are not equal to men. The only way women can get to the highest heaven is if their husband calls them there by their secret name. Women can never hold the priesthood in the Mormon religion. This is what he founds his life on so I'm not surprised that he doesn't see women as equals and doesn't want to fight for equal rights...
two points...#1 Romney never said he paid his female cabinet members the same he would have had he hired men. #2....if you are from MA like me, you know when he decided to NOT run for re-election as governor....he got the Republican Party behind ousting his LT. Governor, Jane Swift...in favor of nominating a male – Baker to run against Duval Patrick. This is a FACT! so I guess to Romney....women should stay in the kitchen....oops I mean the cabinet...not the top office!
IMO going out finding women is just going out to satisfy a drastic to show the illusion of equality. I thought you post a job opening, you get applicants, and from that pool you choose the best one. If no women applied, none get the job.
So Romney had 'a binder full of women'. Did he work with Hugh Heffner to pick the right ones for the job?
I wonder if there are 47 women in those binders?
So, CNN considers themselves to be a "serious news source", and still publishes this stupid article? This is childish, and is beneath any real news source. It's time to grow up, children. And don't vote. You're not ready for the big people world.
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."... What a JERK!
You've got to be kidding me. The President lies through his teeth at every turn and the mdeia does virtually zero fact-checking on it, and somehow the American people are supposed to be swayed by claims that Romney's comment was intended to mean anything other than a portfolio of qualified female's resumes??? I guess it just means he's looking to solidify his base of gullible moron voters.
Ol' Mitt finally come clean about his support for affirmative action, saying he had plenty of qualified men for his cabinet, but wouldn't hire them because he wanted a woman. He's a lib just like Obama!
Emiko "As a woman, I felt this was one of Romney's strongest points of the night because he spoke from experience. I know what he really meant by "binders full of women"
As a woman, I find it ironic that Mitt Romney took so many years to realize that he hadn't come in contact with any "qualified" women associates prior to becoming Governor of Massachusetts. Apparently Bain Capitol was a "man only" work force during the Romney years.
Like going to Lowes and picking out paint color and the clerk comes over with a binder full of colors to choose from and you say, "Hmh, I think I'll take this color". LOL
Mitt and his binder comment is like watching Ward Cleaver trying to use a "Smart Phone". Why didn't he just say he was given a ton of resumes for qualified women.
The real problem is, he never answer the young lady's question, which was how would he help ensure equal pay. Nothing, na da, zip... Just some talk about flexible hours so these ladies could get home and make dinner.
Ladies, please hear me when I say Mitt Romney has nothing good on his agenda for us.
The who won the debate polls end far to early. Not all of us work 9-5!
Just watch the debate, Obama won. Mitt did ok, but seem out of touch.
Before I finally got married, I also had a binder full of women also :)
Romney's crowd is going to whine about quotes taken out of context. But the context of the binder comment just makes Mittens look worse. Talk about patronizing and clueless. He and Todd Akin are two peas in a pod.