As if the president doesn't already have his plate full, he now must deal with ethics in the White House. His popularity is at an all-time low and members of his team are under a cloud.

Mr. Bush has ordered his staff to take a "refresher" course in ethics and the handling of classified material.

Here is how it might go:

"Loyal members of the White House staff. Welcome to the crash course in Remedial Ethics 101. As you know, the president feels our ethics are not up to snuff and you people, by staying the course, have lost your moral compass.

"If he can get us out of the war he got us into, solve the energy crisis, and save Medicare and Social Security, he can recoup his popularity and go down in history as the greatest president of all time.

"Now, what is ethics? It is not lying to the American people, unless you have to for a greater good.

"Being president of the most powerful nation in the world is hard, hard, hard work. And having his people indicted by a grand jury doesn't make the job any easier.

"I am going to give the class some hypothetical cases, and I want you to respond with the first thing that comes to mind.

"Someone in the government has written an op-ed piece in the New York Times making us look trigger-happy for going to war in Iraq. What is the first ethical thing to do? Stinman?"

"Have press secretary Scott McClellan deny it?"

"No, the first thing to do is find out who the writer is married to. If by chance he is married to an undercover CIA agent, what is the second thing you do? Boomlaw?"

"Call Robert Novak and leak it to him?"

"In the past that would be the only thing to do, but under the new guidelines it is not ethical. If Novak prints it, everyone will know it came from the White House. The only way is to invite Novak to lunch with Vice President Cheney and let him find the name of the CIA agent under his salad plate. You have a question, Muffin?"

"Why not leak it to Judy Miller? She went to jail rather than reveal her sources."

"Yes, leaking to Judy would be not only the right but also the ethical thing to do."

"Professor, can I give it to Tim Russert?"

"You can talk to Russert and ask him questions about what the Buffalo Bills' chances are of going to the Super Bowl. But don't give him names, because he'll tell the grand jury, and they'll hang you for perjury.

"All right class, let's continue. We have to avoid the trouble Lewis Libby got into. How do we do that?"

"Don't take Robert Novak to lunch."

"Good answer, Robatusin. Now we have to be very careful with classified material. We don't want it to get into the hands of the president's enemies, such as John McCain.

"Don't reveal any secrets to the media unless they are marked 'Top Secret' and show the president knows what he's doing. Remember this. If you get into any unethical situation, you're on your own. Even Karl Rove can't get you out."

(c) 2005, Tribune Media Services