Lack of attention to basics is hampering the lessons we could learn from the origins discussion
Tangentially to your main point, the Chinese authorities may be motivated to cover-up and obfuscate because they don't know how the virus escaped the bat environment. Authoritarian governments do not trust lower level officials to tell them the truth and if Dr Shi personally told Xi Jinping that she was responsible, Xi would assume that she was hiding something worse.
Perfectly stated both in MIT Technology Review and in your NY Time article. But I believe that the vantage point for vast majority of humanity is not where the virus came from, but how do we get back to some degree of normality in our daily lives, avoid Delta variant and so on. And then the media caters to that vantage point as they earn based on readership/viewership/clickship (plus major PR push around vaccination, at least here in Canada). While immediately disappointing, I do believe the the 'day or reckoning' will come, it is just that today it is a concern of a minuscule minority (is that a pleonasm :)), like us on this thread, hence no coverage. But we should be armed with arguments for that day...
Elaborating on a previous comment as to what Xi knows and how paranoid he might be about what he doesn’t know, I think it might be impossible for him to rule out even the possibility of a deliberately constructed virus, much less of a lab leak of a natural one.
An important question is the difficulty (or not) of copying coronavirus genomes to DNA and then manipulating them. If the difficulty of constructing the SARS-CoV-2 genome (and in the process substituting the ACE2 binding domain of a different but related virus) were such that it could be a training project for a new graduate student, or an under-the-radar one person project, it would be virtually impossible for Shi or the government in Beijing to be sure that didn’t happen, even if the actual origin of the virus were completely natural.
I don’t do that kind of molecular biology myself, but a quick check of the Thermo-Fisher catalogue suggests that commercially available reverse transcriptases can copy 10,000 nucleotides fairly routinely, with reasonable fidelity. The SARS-CoV-2 genome is about 30,000 nucleotides long, so that’s about 3 reactions that could be done in parallel. Some work and planning would be needed to stitch all this into a bacterial artificial chromosome. Then, the whole thing would have to be sequenced, but that's not that big a deal. This would be in an environment in which all the procedures involved are routine. In this scenario, once the virus got out, I would suspect that lab notebooks would be burned, and sequence-containing directories on hard drives deleted, not by the government but by the very frightened graduate student.
What's scary here is the sheer ease of risking a pandemic even if my little scenerio has nothing to do with the origin of SARS-CoV-2. It might be worth running by experts who actually have experience in this sort of thing.
I saw the Rowan Jacobsen article with Baric quotes in the Tech Review. It raised a number of questions that deserve closer coverage in terms that a scientifically literate readership can relate to and use, but the length of the article did not permit. With only 30,000 letters (amino acids?) in the virus genome, I am surprised that computational studies of its function have not been called upon to explain what factors are leading to the apparent large differences in contagion between the major named variants. When will we need the booster variants or mixtures of mRNA strings in a vaccine to confer resistance? And are the differences between increasingly successful strains of COV19 confined to the spike shape and enabler (e.g. furin relase) regions, or is important stuff happening further down the chain? I think more and better scientific journalism can help inform the public and demystify the dangers of keeping up with a mutating but relatively simple pathogen. This is new information being gathered in laboratories around the world.
Thank you for drawing attention to the Baric interview. And your comment is so true: "But again and again, throughout the past year, the more unlikely and extreme scenarios get 'debunked' and the many actual questions and sensible and factual worries have been treated like… they don’t exist." That's why it's been frustrating to listen to recent interviews with Laurie Garrett and Peter Daszak.
If the media inattention reflects a lack of culture war salience, maybe that creates an opportunity. There could be room for concerned lab scientists, with the broader scientific, academic, and policy community, to make a united push for better standards. And Congress, which has recently done some under-the-radar bipartisan work on science and tech funding, might actually be helpful. The response to your latest NYT piece shows there is public interest, too. Here's hoping.