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November 26, 2004
A Tale Of Two Mercenaries, Not One

The ABC News Show 20/20 featured a story last week on campus cheaters -- those who pay others to do their work while collecting their degrees. The Scotsman highlights one of the cheaters, Wal-Mart heiress Paige Laurie, who sailed through the University of Southern California by hiring Elena Martinez to do her work:

Elena Martinez, her former room-mate at the University of Southern California, claims Ms Laurie paid her $20,000 over three years to write essays and complete assignments on her behalf, freeing the tycoons daughter for celebrity engagements.

"I thought about quitting a lot of times, but I didnt know how. I was dealing with someone really powerful," Ms Martinez told ABC televisions 20/20 programme. "I rarely got a bad grade, but if I did, shed say, this was horrible. She was pretty picky." ...

Her alleged fraud began one night during her first term in 2000, when she paid Ms Martinez $25 to write an essay for her while she spent the evening at a party. To a student already struggling to make ends meet, it seemed an attractive proposition.

"I just thought, OK, this is $25, Ive got lunch tomorrow. I was the epitome of the starving college student," Ms Martinez admitted. "Then it just snowballed big time. Pretty soon, it was an employee-employer relationship."

Ms. Laurie apparently has some experience with the employer/employee relationship. She also has quite a track record for being pampered; her father bought the naming rights to the University of Missouri's new basketball arena and named it after her, even though she had never attended the school. It's clear from the Scotsman that Paige Laurie provides us yet another example of the classic spoiled rich kid, one who uses everyone around her to get ahead. She apparently majored in manipulation, with a minor in crassness.

But that's not why I found this article interesting. Of course anything to do with Wal-Mart and a cheap degree sounds pretty amusing, and when USC finds itself in yet another academic scandal, it assures me that the world has some consistency. What I find a bit outrageous is the treatment that Elena Martinez gets in both the Scotsman article and the ABC report. Both paint Martinez as a victim of exploitation, although John Stossel balances it out by emphasizing the wrong she committed by cheating.

What really annoyed me was the unchallenged comments about the relationship being that of an employee and Martinez' complaint about Laurie being "picky". Well, excuse me, but if I paid $20,000 for free-lance writing, I'd want the product to shine, too. I get paid a heck of a lot less than that for those columns that actually get published, and if the New York Sun or the Post gets "picky" about the content, I'd consider that good business practice. Martinez acts as if she did Laurie a favor instead of acknowledging that she took part in a business relationship. Hint: Friends don't charge $20,000 for favors. If they're dumb enough (and unethical enough) to write term papers for friends, they don't charge them $25 as a service fee.

Even the normally sensible Stossel doesn't address this, which disappoints me. Paige Laurie is undoubtedly a shallow, spoiled little girl who will probably never have to learn better, thanks to het family fortune. However, Elena Martinez is not much better -- a mercenary who wants to pretend to be a victim of the rich and powerful.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 26, 2004 6:18 AM

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