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Bluff The Listener

BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz. I'm Bill Kurtis, and here is your host at the Chase Bank Auditorium in Chicago, Peter Sagal.


Thank you, Bill.


SAGAL: Thanks, everybody. So we're celebrating Presidents Day week the traditional way - by wallowing in the recent past. In July of last year, there was a shake-up in the Iowa Department of Human Services. We decided to ask one of you to figure out what happened.


SAGAL: Hi, you are on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

JEREMY SIMS: Hello. This is Jeremy Sims in Whittier, N.C.

SAGAL: Whittier, N.C. - I don't know where that is. What's Whittier like?

SIMS: Close to the Smoky Mountains National Park in Cherokee.

SAGAL: And what do you do there?

SIMS: I'm a wine rep and a musician.

SAGAL: You're a wine rep. What's the wine scene like in North Carolina?

SIMS: It's good in the summertime, when it's tourist season.

SAGAL: Right.

SIMS: And, speaking of which, you know, I wish NPR, National Geographic and all you guys with your wine clubs to stay in your lane.

SAGAL: Really?


SIMS: Leave the wine to the professionals.

MO ROCCA: Wait, is there NPR wine?

SAGAL: You didn't know about the...

KURTIS: Oh, yeah.

SAGAL: ...NPR wine club?

ROCCA: Like, that's so...

SIMS: Yeah - Weekend Edition Cabernet.

ROCCA: Oh, my god. Morning Edition wine sounds so sad.



SAGAL: NPR wine - it's very dry but balanced.


SAGAL: Jeremy, it's very nice to have you with us. You're going to play our game in which you must try to tell truth from fiction. Bill, what is Jeremy's topic?

KURTIS: Director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, you're fired.

SAGAL: Iowa - the state where New York Mayor Bill de Blasio lives - just fired the 66-year-old director of its Department of Human Services. Why? Our panelists are going to tell you, but only one of them is telling the truth. Pick that one, and you'll win our prize - the WAIT WAITer of your choice on your voicemail. Ready to play?

SIMS: I'm ready.

SAGAL: Let's first hear from Maeve Higgins.

MAEVE HIGGINS: It's not where you've been - it's where you're at. A cool saying, but not one that applies to Jerry Foxhoven, the director of the Iowa Department of Human Services who was recently asked to resign from his post. The shocking reason for his resignation is only becoming clear now. He does not live in Iowa - nor, it turns out, has he ever even been there. It began when Mr. Foxhoven was at a meeting in D.C. and referred to Iowa as that lovely place by the sea.


HIGGINS: When Jiminy Limpet (ph), an Iowa housing official, heard his colleague saying that, he quizzed him, asking what their state was famous for. Mr. Foxhoven replied in a shaky voice, well, you know Iowa - the Lone Star State.


HIGGINS: How about those Iowa ball guys? (Laughter).


HIGGINS: Next year, we'll win all of the football games. That's when the newspapers picked up on it. One reporter reached Mr. Foxhoven on the phone and asked him some basic questions that anybody who lives in Iowa should know. In response to the question where is Sioux City, he answered, I haven't seen Sue (ph) in years. What a great girl.


HIGGINS: Now that he's been fired, his former employees are connecting the dots. When it came to having team meetings, he would always video conference in, even when the meeting was happening just down the hall from his office. Contacted by reporters, some staff mentioned seeing a surfboard in the background and noting that, in hindsight, it was unlikely he was using it to surf on cornfields.


SAGAL: Jerry Foxhoven's problem - he had never actually been to Iowa. Your next story of a pink slip comes from Mo Rocca.

ROCCA: Until June 17, 66-year-old Jerry Foxhoven was Iowa's director of Human Services. That was the day after he sent an email to 4,300 agency employees praising the music of the late rapper Tupac Shakur. Now, Foxhoven, formerly known as the notorious DHS director...


ROCCA: ...Isn't just a fan of Tupac Shakur. He was hosting weekly Tupac Fridays to play his music in the office. For his own birthday, Foxhoven served Tupac-themed cookies, including one decorated with the words thug life. During his two years, he sent 350 Tupac-themed emails to employees. When Governor Kim Reynolds asked him to resign, it was one week after Foxhoven sent an agency-wide email reminding employees to mark Tupac's birthday by playing one of his songs.

Now, lest anyone think that a 66-year-old Iowan loving rap is funny, bear in mind that the very first rap was heard in the opening of the greatest American musical, which was set in Iowa, "The Music Man."


ROCCA: Cash for the fancy goods. Cash for the soft goods. Cash for the noggins and the pickins (ph) and the frickin' (ph) (imitating static). Cash for the hog's head. Cash in demijohn. Cash for the crackers and the pickles and the flypaper.


ROCCA: What do you talk? What do you talk? What do you talk? What do you talk? You can talk. You can talk. You can bicker. You can talk. You can bicker, bicker, bicker. You can talk all you want. But it's different than it was. No, it ain't. No, it ain't. But you got to know the territory. (Imitating crash).


SAGAL: Jerry Foxhoven fired from his job in the Iowa state government because apparently of his overly enthusiastic appreciation of Tupac Shakur. Your last story of a dishonorable discharge comes from Alonzo Bodden.

ALONZO BODDEN: Jerry Foxhoven loves Iowa. He loves his state's cities and towns, the fields, the highways. He loves Iowa's humans, and he loves providing them with services, which is good because he's the Iowa state director of Human Services. But there was one problem - Jerry Foxhoven hates corn.


BODDEN: It started with a Facebook page he called Corn Is The Devil's Grain. Jerry posted all the reasons he hates corn. It gets caught in your teeth. It's hard to digest. Corn on the cob is a sloppy mess on your fingers. The page grew in popularity with other haters chiming in. An unpopped popcorn cracked my tooth. If I wanted to know what I ate the night before, I'd keep a diary.


BODDEN: It even got political, with attacks on ethanol fuel subsidies or the corn lobby's influences on Congress. The problem with this is Facebook is public, and when corn farmers saw the page, they went straight to the governor. You can't be governor in a corn state and have a senior appointee hate corn.

Rebecca Shields (ph), a reporter from the Iowa Gazette, asked Foxhoven, why the hatred of corn? Foxhoven said he ate corn every day as a child and just got so sick of it, he thought it would be funny to attack it. After the supporters joined his page, it became a real thing, and it spun out of his control. He sighed. I guess in the end, corn won.


SAGAL: All right.


SAGAL: There really is a guy named Jerry Foxhoven. He really is 66 years old, and he really was until this week the head of Human Services for the state of Iowa. Why was he fired? Was it because, from Maeve, he didn't actually live in or had ever been to Iowa? From Mo Rocca, his overt and perhaps overenthusiasm for the rapper Tupac Shakur? Or, from Alonzo, he just hated corn too much? Which of these were the real reasons, we believe, for his termination?

SIMS: Has to be Mo Rocca's story.

SAGAL: You're going to go with Mo Rocca's story...


SAGAL: ...Of an enthusiasm for Tupac Shakur.

ROCCA: I love the way he just said my name.

HIGGINS: Yes, cool.

ROCCA: (Laughter).

SAGAL: All right. You picked his. Now, it's amazing because we were able to get in touch with the gentleman in question himself.


JERRY FOXHOVEN: My favorite song by Tupac maybe I think changes...


SAGAL: That was Jerry Foxhoven. He loves Tupac Shakur almost as much as he used to love Iowa state bureaucracy.


SAGAL: Congratulations. You got it right.


SAGAL: Mo was telling the truth, including about Meredith Willson inventing hip-hop, so you have won our prize - the voice of your choice on your voicemail. Congratulations.


SIMS: All right. Thank you.

SAGAL: Well done. Thanks so much for playing.

SIMS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DE VINE SONG, "RIDE WITH ME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.