Pressures, spinning mills… Victor Castanet reveals behind the scenes of “Gravediggers”, his shocking book on nursing homes

A year ago, Victor Castanet’s book about abuse in nursing homes caused an earthquake. But the journalist had to overcome many traps to investigate… He told, in the pocket edition of his bestseller, how his work was hindered. Welcome

Just a year ago. The Gravediggers invaded the “investigation” shelves of bookstores and caused a tsunami. Relentless, chilling, well-documented and full of open-faced testimonies… Victor Castanet’s book, then completely unknown to the general public, shed a harsh light on abuses in care for in old age in private retirement homes. Mistreatment, irregular taking of public money, suffering at work, union discrimination… Over the pages, the dysfunctions and wanderings of the sector are many. Especially within the world leader, the Orpea group (7 billion euros in turnover). All the media took up the subject, the author and his press secretary were bombarded with requests for interviews in the days and weeks after publication. The escalation reached the National Assembly and even reached the presidential candidates, who were summoned to address the issue three months before the first round.

However, this investigation that became a social fact, crowned at the end of November with the prestigious Albert-Londres prize, may not have seen the light of day. Various forces (economic intelligence agencies, private detectives, etc.) move in the shadows to destroy or try to destroy the work of the journalist. This is what the same Victor Castanet revealed in the pocket edition of his bestseller (170,000 copies sold), with ten new chapters, which will appear on January 25. “I want to say everything that could have hindered my investigation and sometimes over-the-limit methods used, said the 35-year-old journalist at a café in Belleville, Paris, where he lives. There are many obstacles to freedom of information that raise real democratic questions. »

A few days before the book’s release, in January 2022, a survey on aging well » in Europe is, for example, published by the Odoxa Institute. It establishes that if old age care is generally a problem in Europe, the French are among the best. What to demine everything scandal » coming… The director of Odoxa is invited to France Info to talk about it. But what the audience didn’t know was that the survey was commissioned by a communication and influence agency, Image 7, which works… for Orpea. “During the crisis, Orpea paid them up to 50,000 euros per month, announced Victor Castanet. As a result, their strategy cannot be said to be successful. » The Image 7 agency, led by the powerful Anne Méaux — a former communications adviser to Giscard, she knows many politicians, business leaders, journalists, etc. — counts many multinationals among its clients. Among them: the Lagardère group, owner of Hachette, which owns Fayard, the book publisher. As a precaution, its CEO Sophie de Closets (now head of Flammarion) decided not to inform group management of the release of Gravediggers…

Throughout his investigation, Victor Castanet has to fend off pressure and crooked punches. An economic intelligence company is commissioned to obtain information about his book. A so-called journalist besieged Fayard so that proofs could be sent to him before publication – without success. The website Economic Morning publishes several articles questioning the reputation of a headhunter who, while working for Orpea, found out some mistakes made by its management. The malicious content produced by Avisa Partners, which specializes in e-reputation, at the request, repeatedly, of the group targeted by the journalist. “It shows the abuses of the management at the time, which also called on private detectives to build files on employees deemed disruptive or to try to identify my sources, explained Victor Castanet. Some leaders even spy on each other! » He sees in this example the symptoms of a larger problem. “Many CAC 40 companies work in crisis management or economic intelligence companies. As long as they stay watching, all is well. But when they start tracking down employees or journalists who might harm the group’s interests, it’s serious. »

“I realized that the only thing that works to move society is the balance of power. »

Sometimes, big Parisian law firms create a buffer so that these not-so-stellar activities don’t show up directly in the accounts – a simple line attorney fees » may do the trick – or not to inform the board. Through pressure, threats and intimidation, we try to prevent journalists from completing their work, as happened to François Ruffin with the LVMH group when he ran the newspaper. Fakir. I have the impression that the phenomenon is becoming systematic, it constitutes a great threat to the freedom of the press », worried Victor Castanet. Who also faces another obstacle in his investigation: the law on business secrecy. Worn by Emmanuel Macron while he was still in Bercy, this text voted in 2018 to protect companies that block access to certain economic information. When I realized that Orpea was not regularly taking large amounts of public money, I had to compare the group’s internal documents that I had obtained with the supervisory authorities, he details. The regional health agencies (ARS) never want to give them to me, in the name of business secrecy! A completely unjustified lack of transparency, when it comes to public money. »

Immediately after the publication of the book, the journalist has disputes with a certain Cyril Hanouna. Because of the earthquake, many programs want to have it on set, including Don’t touch My TV. Polite refusal. The C8 is back in charge for Facing Baba, the other shows in Hanouna. Victor Castanet prefers to go to the enemy », Everyday (TMC). In retaliation, the host organized the next day a debate titled “Scandal and abuse in nursing homes: are these accusations baseless? », terms that Orpea’s CEO at the time inadvertently used in his defense. A poll on Twitter was launched in stride on the account of TPMP On the same subject. Result: 70% of “yes”. The question is highly biased, and cannot be answered by the audience or the people on the show!, Victor Castanet was annoyed. Cyril Hanouna uses these polls to hurt, knowing that they can be easily manipulated – he will admit it a few days later. I’m fine, I’m a journalist, I know what to expect. But behind this survey, there are caregivers, caregivers who earn 1,500 euros per month. One of them took all the risks that appeared with his name in the book, not knowing how his colleagues would react. When he finds one of the first talk shows in France questioning his testimony, it’s violent! You can’t play with information like that. »

All these pitfalls were not prevented in the end The Gravediggers to have a major impact on French society. The book freed the voice of many players and employees in the sector, who knew that the media was listening to them more. The “Orpea system” – which should change its name in the coming months, according to the journalist – has been discontinued. Those who set it up need to be held accountable for their actions in court. The Ehpad control system will also evolve – they will be more frequent and unannounced. Quality indicators based on specific criteria will be put in place. “I realized that the only thing that works to move society is the balance of power. If you don’t put media pressure on the government, nothing will happen. »

“Over the past year, I’ve received hundreds of alerts of malfunctions in the emergency room, Samu, in psychiatric clinics, disabilities…”

After this success, Victor Castanet said that he had many job offers in the press. He is a regular contributor to the newspaper The world (Telerama is part of the same group as everyday). But he remains very attached to the comfort of work, if not financial, that comes with the long term. “Sources don’t give you the same when you spend an hour, a day, a week, or… three years with them,” he recognizes. Like others, he followed the publisher Sophie de Closets to Flammarion, following the acquisition of Lagardère by Vincent Bolloré. “The new president of Fayard, Isabelle Saporta, had the grace to give me back my freedom for the pocket edition of gravediggers. »

Two books have already been signed with his new publisher. The subject? Over the past year, I have received hundreds of alerts on malfunctions in the emergency room, Samu, in psychiatric clinics, disability… All this shows that the French system, which is rather popular, is cracking. There will definitely be a health survey,” he confessed, without further details. But it won’t be a sequel gravediggers, whose adaptation rights have been purchased by production company Mediawan. A fiction is on track for France 2, directed by Nicolas Boukhrief. “I have a job for the next four years,” he warned. Some must be shaking.

The Gravediggers, expanded edition of ten unpublished chapters, I read, 512 pages, €9.50.

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